Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

10 Strangest Things About State Recount

Crazy cost estimates, murky legal issues, Green Party spats, and much more.

By - Dec 1st, 2016 12:48 pm
Jill Stein. Photo courtesy of Jill Stein for President.

Jill Stein. Photo courtesy of Jill Stein for President.

The effort to recount the presidential election results in Wisconsin and two other states seemed like not that big a deal, but has quickly descended into farce. Let us count the ways:

1. Jill Stein could have avoided the recount by not running. The Green Party candidate has raised millions to pay for the recount, with the hope it would show Republican Donald Trump lost in Wisconsin. But his 22,000 margin probably would have been wiped out if Stein hadn’t run, as most of her 30,000 votes probably would have gone to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

2. Nobody in the Green Party seems to agree with Stein. Her own running mate, Ajamu Baraka, told CNN “I’m not in favor of the recount.” And the Green Party’s Maryland Senate candidate Margaret Flowers “has circulated an open letter, which has signatures from many prominent Green Party members, opposing the recount,” CNN reported. Their argument boiled down to: sure, a recount might serve the democracy, but would it help the Green Party?

3. The outrage against Stein is overdone. A reasonable rationale for a recount was offered by University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman, who has noted the use of cyber-technology by Russian operatives in an attempt to influence America’s presidential election and that he himself has successfully hacked into the kind of machines used to record votes. Barbara Simons, another elections expert, offered sound reasons for the recount. Verifying election results will help assure there were no errors and assure voters, in an election where Trump lost the popular election by more than 2.2 million votes, that the electoral college results are correct. Stein may be imperfect (who of us is not), but that doesn’t mean her efforts are unwarranted.

4. The Republican objections are phony. The Republican Party filed suit against Stein’s recount, claiming Clinton had been “soundly defeated” though she won the popular vote easily and declaring “It is clear that the only beneficiaries of Jill Stein’s recount are Hillary Clinton and Wisconsin Democrats.”  Actually, there are quite a few other beneficiaries, namely the more than 64 million Americans who voted for Clinton. You can bet the GOP would want a recount if the situation were reversed and its candidate swept the popular vote but lost the electoral college in three squeaker state elections. The suit really shows its leaders are worried the result could be overturned.

5. The outrage against Clinton is absurd. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial on this is an example. “Clinton blasted Trump for refusing to say during an October debate whether he would accept the results of the election,” the paper noted, suggesting Clinton was a hypocrite. On the contrary, Clinton made a gracious concession speech the day after the election. A recount (which she hasn’t requested but doubtless welcomes) doesn’t change that: it is following the democratic process, which allows this option only under certain specified conditions.

6. The pomposity on display is remarkable. Leading the way with overdone complaints is yes, the Journal Sentinel, whose editorial complains “Stein’s quixotic moralizing damages the credibility of the very institution she claims to protect — the sanctity of the ballot box.” On the contrary, a recount would verify that all was done correctly, just as it did in 2011 when the results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg were recounted. The paper insists there is no evidence the count is wrong, but simply ignored the arguments of experts like Halderman and Simmons and the fact that Trump’s margin shrunk from 30,000 to 22,000 votes as totals were corrected. Stein is following the letter of the law in Wisconsin, and Journal Sentinel editorial instead suggests the standard should be… whatever the paper decides is correct. The size of that shrinking editorial board’s collective ego is something to behold.

7. The state election commission couldn’t even count the costs correctly. Surely the most absurd moment in the recount saga was the commission’s announcement that, after telling Stein the cost of the recount would be $3.5 million, it was wrong. “Unfortunately, there was an error in adding up figures from the 72 Wisconsin county clerks of their estimated recount costs, and the actual total is $3,898,340.” To err is human and to forgive is divine, but that does get a little harder when the errors are being made by the same officials whose handling of the election is at issue.

8. The county estimates of cost varied wildly. As the Journal Sentinel reported, the average estimated cost of the recount was $1.31 per vote, but ranged from Iron County’s estimate of 20 cents a vote to neighboring Oneida County’s estimate of $8.46 per vote.  None of this proves the vote was wrong, but does remind us why it’s better to “trust but verify,” in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan.

9. After all this there won’t be a hand recount of most votes. Haldeman has argued that only a hand recount can provide certainty that machines weren’t hacked. But under Wisconsin law it is not required, unless the petitioner “convinced a court that due to an irregularity, defect or mistake a recount using tabulating equipment would produce incorrect results and that a hand count would likely produce a more correct result and change the outcome of the election,” as the election commission summarizes it.

10: Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn urged a hand recount even as she ruled against it. Stein went to court to petition for a hand recount, with Halderman and other experts testifying, but the judge ruled they hadn’t met the standard required to force a hand recount, even as she suggested there were good reasons to do it. Under the statute, individual counties can determine whether they wish to conduct the recount by hand, and 49 of 72 counties (those with lower population) have indicated they will.

Where does that leave us? I doubt the results will be overturned. Wisconsin’s electoral system has always struck me as pretty sound, as the Prosser recount showed. The ideal recount would have been by hand in all 72 counties, but democracy is never perfect and the time period before the electoral ballots would have made a hand recount difficult to accomplish. Stein should have acted earlier, but it’s easy to second guess.

For all the huffing and puffing here, the recount won’t cost the taxpayers a cent. It will help provide more certainty, and the states involved may even make some discoveries that improve the process the next time around. The recount is legal under the statutes, won’t hurt and might help. The only pain I can see is some sleepless nights for GOP officials and members of the JS editorial board. I am confident they will emerge stronger from the experience.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

17 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 10 Strangest Things About State Recount”

  1. Gee says:

    Uhhhhh, Halderman was Stein’s witness for a recount, undermining your claim as to her stated reason for the recount: election integrity.

  2. tom says:

    I don’t get the opposition. The process will validate the results if nothing else. At the end we should all be able to feel confident that Wisconsin can execute a presidential election accurately. If the results show major differences then we need to fix the process. Are the cry babies paying for this? No! So please shut up and let the process go forward peacefully. A bonus of the process would be to find the blabbering racist, misogynist, xenophobe and egomaniac Trump did not win WI, but I doubt that will happen.

  3. W R says:

    GeeWizz? “Blind Justice” or “Rules are Rules.” Who amongst us is afraid of a hand count. If Trump’s win totals hold then the machine has been validated. And if not? Well …

  4. Benny Nota says:

    It doesn’t matter to Republicans if, logically, a recount should assure everyone that the election results were proper – even if the recount is likely to show that, indeed, Donald Trump won Wisconsin.

    It doesn’t matter because they’ve demonstrated that if they can persuade a significant number of voters that Democrats are dishonest and corrupt, they can win more voters.

    This morning I saw a billboard along I-43 calling on the public to “stop the liberals from stealing the election,” with shifty-looking photos of Clinton and Stein. I didn’t catch the full URL of the website the billboard advertised (I was driving) but it had the letters “GOP” in it. I’m equally sure it’s not an “official” Republican website – but as the Republicans’ fevered efforts to kill the John Doe probes established, coordination between different partisan groups (whether legal under WI law or not) is a common Republican practice.

  5. Joseph Klein says:

    So I see nothing about checking the checksums on the counting machines software images, a rather simple check for hacking. Ask a tech guy what I mean.

  6. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Total ignorance of what is going on. Total ignorance of voting procedures. If the total votes in a precinct were much higher than the previous registrations, plus the on site, then you could question it, without hand recount in this precincts that qualify.
    But the only cogent reason, that the recount was done, was to hold off the vote for Electors, so the three states did not vote, thereby throwing it into House where Trump could get dumped. But, they have screwed it up so bad and do not have enough money.

  7. happyjack27 says:

    Agree with Joseph – Check the checksums.

    For the non-techie: a checksum is the sum of adding up all the bytes in the file (in this case, the software) 4-bytes at a time (making it 32 bits). If the checksum doesn’t match the checksum that the developer of the software has published, it’s been tampered with. A simple quick check. (Doesn’t prove that it hasn’t been tampered with, though.)

  8. Michael Forrest says:

    I don’t see this as innocuous. We don’t have good cause to believe the result will change. They can audit the machines to satisfy their curiosity, but the seating of electors shouldn’t be impeded until such time as cause can be shown.

  9. Gee says:

    The seating of electors is still weeks away, Michael, so there have been no delays — nor, by court order, will there be.

    Why aren’t you interested in whether our reliance on machine tabulation, in many counties, is correct? After all, despite what ol’ wisconsin conservative digest says, we already have seen this time exactly what he states as the reason for a recount: Several counties in which precincts reported more votes cast for president than votes cast in total (Outagamie, Sauk, etc.).

    No one at local or state governments did a thing about that, nor did ol’ media even report those ridiculous “tabulation errors,” until non-Wisconsinites took a look and reported it on social media. And the process in Wisconsin is so lacking in transparency, as we now know from seeing sites for all states, that who knows what other idiocies occurred? I want to know.

  10. Tom D says:

    WCD, even if the election gets thrown into the House, Trump still wins because the only other person the Constitution would be allow them to choose would be Hillary (you must get at least one electoral vote to be considered by the House)—and I can’t see Paul Ryan’s crew doing that!

    And even if the House somehow couldn’t decide, the Senate would choose Pence for VP who (in the absence of a victor in the House) act as President.

    So, no, this isn’t an attempt to throw the choice into the House.

  11. happyjack27 says:

    Setting of electors is an arbitrary date – delaying it would not cause any harm. Electing the wrong president, OTOH, clearly would. Priorities.

  12. Duane Snyder says:

    I found the article by Greg Palast, “The No-BS Inside Guide to the Presidential Vote Recount” pretty helpful. (It’s on the website). Some excerpts……

    “To begin with, the main work of the recount hasn’t a damn thing to do with finding out if the software programs for the voting machines have been hacked,…The Green team does not yet even have the right to get into the codes…..”
    “……….in a typical presidential election, at least three million votes end up rejected, often for picayune, absurd reasons…….their first job is to pull the votes out of the electoral dumpster — and, one by one, make the case for counting a rejected provisional, absentee or “spoiled” ballot….In Wisconsin, provisional ballots were handed to voters — mostly, it appears, students — who didn’t have the form of ID required under new Wisconsin law. These ballots were disqualified despite zero evidence even one voter was an identity thief…..Fitrakis says the Stein campaign will fight for each of these provisional votes where there is clearly no evidence the vote is fraudulent….”
    “…..Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach (a top dog in Trump’s transition team) directs a program for hunting down fraudulent voters using a computer system called “Crosscheck.”….About 54,000 voters in Michigan, five times Trump’s plurality, lost their right to vote based on this unfounded double-voter accusation. In Pennsylvania, about 45,000 were purged….”
    “…the single biggest impediment to a full and fair recount is that 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters used what are called “Push and Pray” voting machines — Direct Recording Electronic touch-screens. Push the screen next to your choice and pray it gets recorded. Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has yet to require some form of voter-verified paper audit trail that creates an ATM-style receipt….the Keystone State recount will have to rely on hopes of access to the code, statistical comparisons to counties that used paper ballots — and prayer”.

  13. The unintended consequence of the recount is to validate an electoral process that was far from democratic. Why would we say an election where more than $5 billion was spent — yes, FIVE BILLION DOLLARS — was democratic? In other words the two parties spent about $37 per vote ($5 billion/135 million voters). The search for the “Russian hack” also diverts us from remembering all the voter suppression efforts that helped depress the turnout. The result of the Green recount will be to, as Tom says, “validate the results if nothing else.” Validating this “election” harms democracy.

  14. David Nelson says:

    Good points Duane.

  15. Thomas Spellman says:

    I love number 6 in the story. First 30,000 then 27,000 and now 22,000. I knew there was a reason for stopping my subscription to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. What should be standard practice (What non-profit that receives Federal dollars is not audited YEARLY). Yes that has been a mistake since having machines count the vote. A part of every election should be recounted as standard practice. And who claims that the Supreme Court recount of Waukesha votes with bags opened was without question. I do not know why we are afraid of the TRUTH.

  16. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    As usual none of the Lefties on this site got to the core of the Recount: Slowing up the vote so Wis. cannot cast their votes on 12/19, either via slow recount or lead moves.
    Do not forget to look at the attempts to switch Electoral votes, will they try bribes? They have made death threats.

  17. Allen says:

    Notrovia, nostrovia?

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