Election Recounts 2016: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

votes counted


The 2016 presidential election recounts are about to begin, plunging an already chaotic election into more scenes of drama.

Green Party nominee Jill Stein has raised more than $6 million for recounts in three battleground states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Stein formally requested a recount in Wisconsin first because that state’s deadline was on November 25. On November 26, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign said she would join the Wisconsin effort, which starts next week, and will possibly join subsequent recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, although the Pennsylvania efforts are running into the most roadblocks.

Stein on November 28 filed a lawsuit to force a hand count of ballots in Wisconsin; the state’s Election Commission had left that decision up to each county. Stein also sued in Pennsylvania, asking a judge to force a recount there. USA Today said Stein supporters also started filing petitions asking for recounts at the individual precinct level, which is the other way in that state to force a recount.

However, Stein missed deadlines to seek more recounts at the precinct level in Pennsylvania, instead filing a lawsuit seeking a recount that must demonstrate fraud and that some say a judge does not have the authority to grant.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is defending the election results, according to Politico, saying, “it has seen no evidence of hackers tampering with the 2016 presidential election” and adding, “We stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people.”

Stein has telegraphed her intentions to also seek recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and she wrote on her fundraising website that she had raised enough money as of November 26 to fund the Pennsylvania recount too; the deadline for filing for a recount in Pennsylvania is November 28, and the deadline in Michigan is November 30.

Unprocessed ballots in the 2016 presidential race were still being counted as of November 26, especially in populous blue California, although they won’t change the Electoral College math because Clinton already won that state. According to the Cook Political Report, here are the popular vote election results:

Clinton: 64,637,503
Trump: 62,409,389
Others: 7,190,133

Trump leads in the swing states by a popular vote margin of 22,171,924 to 21,342,561, according to Cook Political Report. That gave Trump his Electoral College victory of 306-232. Clinton would win the Electoral College if she flipped Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania into her column but – underscoring the immense difficulty of the task – she would need all three states.

Even her own campaign lawyer acknowledges the challenge, noting that no recount has overturned a presidential vote total even as large as Michigan’s, the tightest of the three states.

For his part, after initially staying silent about the Stein recount crusade, Trump, who prevailed in all three states and criticized the election as rigged before he won it, has decried the recount efforts as a “scam,” pointing out that Clinton has already conceded. He also unleashed a stream of tweets highlighting Clinton’s past debate criticism of him for previously saying the election was “rigged.”

Some others have also criticized Stein for what they see as a money-wasting quixotic effort; her vote total in Michigan surpassed Trump’s margin, and some believe the stronger presence of third-party candidates hurt Clinton this election year (with Stein and Gary Johnson playing the Ralph Nader role).

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Wisconsin’s Recount Will Proceed December 1, but the Other Two State Recounts Haven’t Formally Been Ordered Yet

The three states share a lot in common: They were part of a Midwestern narrative of white working class voters with economic angst shifting to Trump, while Clinton did not rally urban support to the degree Barack Obama had. The three states had not voted for a Republican for president since the 1980s, although Wisconsin has a GOP governor. Pennsylvania elected a slate of Democratic officials to statewide positions while also electing Trump.

Wisconsin’s Election Commission released a statement saying that it had received Stein’s request for a recount as well as one from Reform Party nominee Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente. Wisconsin has until December 13 to complete its recount and is still estimating costs and how they will be charged to campaigns.

The Wisconsin Election Commission said it will cost $3.5 million for the Wisconsin recount, and it will start December 1 if the bill is paid up front. “Wisconsin’s 72 County Clerks expect to hire thousands of temporary workers to assist the county boards of canvassers in recounting the ballots. They also expect to be working extra hours and weekends to finish the recount by 8 p.m. Monday, December 12,” said the Commission. The Commission met to order the recount on November 28:

The Wisconsin Election Commission “is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States,” Administrator Michael Haas said in a written statement on November 25, the recount deadline.

The deadline to seek a recount is November 30 in Michigan. Michigan conducts automatic recounts in elections with margins of less than 2,000 votes (not the case here), but allows any candidate to request one if the candidate “believes that the canvass of the votes cast on the office may be incorrect because of possible ‘fraud or mistake’ in the precinct returns may petition for a recount of the votes cast in the precincts involved.”

Pennsylvania’s recount deadline was November 28, the date Stein mounted a legal challenge to force a recount. The state is unique in lacking a paper trail for its voting and also because a court must order the recount unless enough voters request them at the precinct level. Pensylvania’s election has the largest margin, and, with 20 electoral votes, the state is also the largest prize of the three.

According to Philly.com, Stein’s campaign lawyer said in the court filing that the election was “illegal” and results inaccurate. The news site said the Stein campaign based this claim “on research suggesting there might have been irregularities with electronic voting machines, among other evidence.” One-hundred Pennsylvania voters technically filed the suit and also filed for recounts in some precincts in Philadelphia and Bucks County, said Philly.com. It is likely impossible for Stein to cover the entire state with filings at individual precinct levels because it would take many thousands of voters doing so, said the news site.

NBC 10 said it was “unclear if the courts have that authority” to grant a recount, however. The television station said Democratic Secretary of State Pedro Cortes said there was no evidence of “voting irregularities or cyberattacks on Pennsylvania’s electronic voting machines.”

2. Clinton’s Campaign Says It Investigated Allegations of Outside Interference in the Election but Found Nothing Actionable

Donald Trump, Registered voters, How many voters voted, 2016 election numbers

Clinton let Stein drive the recount train until November 26, the day after a recount was granted in Wisconsin. Clinton’s campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, then penned a widely quoted post on Medium.com that said Clinton’s campaign had vetted the election’s integrity and found no actionable evidence of outside interference in the election.

But Elias wrote that Clinton would now participate in recounts, saying, “It should go without saying that we take these concerns extremely seriously. We certainly understand the heartbreak felt by so many who worked so hard to elect Hillary Clinton, and it is a fundamental principle of our democracy to ensure that every vote is properly counted.”

Elias noted, “This election cycle was unique in the degree of foreign interference witnessed throughout the campaign: the U.S. government concluded that Russian state actors were behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the personal email accounts of Hillary for America campaign officials, and just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Russian government was behind much of the ‘fake news’ propaganda that circulated online in the closing weeks of the election.”

In between tweeting praise for deceased Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, Stein directed a stream of Tweets at both Trump and Clinton:

Stein was critical of Clinton during the election and has said she isn’t seeking the recounts to help Clinton but rather to ensure the election’s fairness.

3. The Margins in the Three States Were Very Close & Trump Did Not Lead in Exit Polls

electoral map

What the electoral map would look like if Clinton had won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. (270toWin)

The margins in all three battleground states were very close, but the closest margin was in Michigan. Trump’s Electoral College victory was wide, although the margins were not deep, meaning that Clinton would need all three states to fall into her column to win the Electoral College (she leads by more than 2 million popular votes).

Here are Trump’s victory margins from the various Secretary of State Offices as of November 26:

Michigan: 10,704 votes.
Wisconsin: 22,177 votes.
Pennsylvania: 70,638 votes.

As a point of contrast, the presidential recount battle in Florida between Al Gore and George W. Bush revolved around a margin of just over 500 votes.

Despite those slim margins, Clinton led in exit polls (as well as in pre-election presidential polls) in the three states, according to TDMSResearch.com:

Wisconsin: Exit polls predicted Clinton would win 48.2% to 44.3%.

Pennsylvania: Exit polls predicted Clinton would win 50.5% to 46.1%.

Michigan: Exit polls predicted a tie of 46.8% for each of the two major party candidates.

Learn more about exit polling versus the actual vote count here:

4. The Three States Have Different Methods for Voting & Recounts

The crowd in Eau Claire was quite enthusiastic tonight, with lines about Hillary Clinton being corrupt and about the media being dishonest receiving a particularly positive response. A fair number of people in the audience seemed to have come from Minnesota; when Trump asked how many fans were from Minnesota, the applause was surprisingly loud. (Getty)

The crowd in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at a Donald Trump rally. (Getty)

The three battleground states handle voting in very different ways. Michigan votes by paper ballot. Pennsylvanians use electronic voting machines without a paper back up. Wisconsin has both electronic and paper ballots. Ballotpedia details variances among states when it comes to voting methods.

The Detroit Free Press said the recount in Michigan “will be a monumental task for the Secretary of State and 83 county clerks around Michigan” and that the state will hand count each ballot if a recount is requested. That’s more than 4.7 million ballots. The opposing candidate has the right to lodge an objection to the recount in Michigan.

Wisconsin has a mixture of machines and paper ballot voting. That led a group of professors and lawyers to approach the Clinton campaign, according to New York Magazine, claiming they’d spotted a possible election anomaly in the results. The magazine article, which seems to have provoked a lot of the recount talk, said the group found that Clinton received a consistently lower rate of support from voters using electronic machines in the state. However, other experts have criticized the claims, saying they can be explained by demographics (rural voters use electronic machines in some areas but may have shifted to Trump for economic or other reasons).

It’s unclear which counties in Wisconsin will hand count the results in the recount.

A Wisconsin Election Commission memo to County Clerks says “a somewhat recent legislative change now provides the option to the county canvass board to determine whether to conduct the recount via a hand-count or electronic voting equipment.”

However, the commission added that the “Stein campaign has indicated that their preferred method for conducting the recount will be by hand instead of by electronic voting equipment. Only ballots that were tabulated by optical scan voting equipment may be recounted by voting equipment (barring a court order). Ballots cast on touchscreen (DRE) voting equipment and ballot that were counted by hand on election night will need to be recounted by hand.”

Pennsylvania is the polar opposite of Michigan; it almost entirely uses electronic machines without paper back ups. In Pennsylvania, unlike Michigan and Wisconsin, “voters or candidates can petition courts for a recount of the vote. A judge is required to make a decision on whether one should go ahead,” said the UK Daily Mail.

The Pennsylvanian method led to concerns even before the November 8 presidential election that a recount would be a “nightmare” scenario because of the lack of a paper trail. The Los Angeles Times wrote in October that computer experts said “the old electronic voting machines have a hidden flaw that worries them in the event of a very close election. The machines do not produce a paper ballot or receipt” and quoted an election expert as saying, “The nightmare scenario would be if Pennsylvania decides the election and it is very close. You would have no paper records to do a recount.”

The Stein campaign wrote on its fundraising site on November 26, “Because of you, recounts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are funded! Next up is Michigan. Congratulations on meeting the recount costs for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania! Raising money to pay for the first two recounts so quickly is a miraculous feat and a tribute to the power of grassroots organizing.”

5. Trump Decried the Recounts as a ‘Scam’ & Claimed, Without Evidence, That Millions Voted Illegally

In a tweet, Trump called the recounts “impossible” and a scam to fill Green Party “coffers.” Some have echoed that claim on Twitter, complaining about the cost when the hurdles are so steep to overturn the election results at this point.

In his most controversial tweet, Trump claimed, without offering evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, called Stein and Clinton “sore losers.”

Stein had criticized Clinton during the presidential campaign, and Trump, just a month ago, was the one complaining about “rigging” the election, whereas Clinton’s allies were the ones complaining about election rigging claims.

In his twitterstorm, Trump highlighted Clinton’s chastisement of him at a debate for saying the election was rigged and also said nothing will change because of the recounts. You can read his tweets here.

Read more about Donald Trump and Melania in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com: