10 Strangest Things About State Recount
Crazy cost estimates, murky legal issues, Green Party spats, and much more.
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.
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.