Pennsylvania Recount 2016: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

People gather for a rally with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former US President Clinton, US President Barack Obama on Independence Mall, November 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

People gather for a rally with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former US President Clinton, US President Barack Obama on Independence Mall, November 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Getty)

Green Party nominee Jill Stein mounted a legal challenge in Pennsylvania on November 28 seeking to force a recount in the battleground state (although technically the lawsuit came from voters).

Even before the election, some experts were saying a recount in the Keystone State could be a nightmare because the state is one of a few to rely on electronic machines to such a degree that they don’t have paper backups (although they aren’t connected to the internet). However, it’s far more complicated to force a recount in Pennsylvania than it is in other states, and right now Stein is banking on getting a judge to order one, although Republicans argue the judge has no authority to do so.

Stein filed the paperwork to formally seek a Wisconsin recount on November 25, beating that state’s deadline by just 90 minutes. She has raised more than $6 million in just over a day to seek recounts in three battleground states that gave Trump the election by close margins: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Stein on November 28 also 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. The same day, Stein sued in Pennsylvania. 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, she has nowhere the number needed to accomplish a statewide recount through that method. Furthermore, Stein missed deadlines to seek more recounts at the precinct level in Pennsylvania, instead filing the lawsuit seeking a recount that must demonstrate fraud. Republicans in the state have derided it as lacking merit.

Hillary Clinton – whose campaign says she will participate in the Wisconsin recount (and possibly those in Pennsylvania and Michigan when the filings happen) but didn’t seek them herself – would need all three states to flip to win in the Electoral College, which meets in December. She is ahead by more than 2 million popular votes. Trump called the recounts a “scam.”

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.”

Her campaign’s lawyer acknowledged the difficulty of overturning the election in a statement (no recount has overturned a margin even as large as Michigan, the tightest contest of the three). However, the campaign said Clinton was joining the Stein recount efforts to ensure election integrity and to monitor the process.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Stein Claims the Pennsylvania Results Were ‘Illegal’ but Officials There Defended Them

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a campaign rally on November 7, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With one day to go until election day, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a campaign rally on November 7, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Getty)

According to, 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 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.

CBS Local said it would take at least three voters seeking recounts in each of 9,200 precincts to proceed that way. Only a tiny fraction of that number has done so.

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.”

The Clinton/Stein challenge faces the steepest hurdles in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by the largest margin of the three swing states, none of which had voted for a Republican for president since the 1980s. The states were part of a trend in which white working class voters shifted toward Trump throughout the Midwest.

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 Stein campaign wrote on its fundraising site, “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.” Michigan’s deadline for a recount is November 30. Pennsylvania’s recount filing fee of $500,000 is the lowest of the three states, the Stein campaign said.

The Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s Office has published these election returns for the state:

Donald Trump: 2,934,583
Hillary Clinton: 2,863,945
Darrell Castle: 21,193
Jill Stein: 49,170
Gary Johnson: 144,141

That makes Trump’s margin in Pennsylvania 70,638 votes. The state last voted for a Republican for president in 1988. Obama won the state 52% to 46.6%.

Democrats did win a series of state offices (attorney general, auditor general, state treasurer), although a Republican prevailed in the race for U.S. Senate.

Trump won Wisconsin by 22,177 votes and Michigan by 10,704 votes. Wisconsin’s recount will now commence starting late next week, the state’s Election Commission said. Stein has not formally asked for the recounts in the other two states yet, but, as noted, she has several days to do so.

2. A Pennsylvania Recount Was Previously Called a ‘Nightmare’ Scenario Because of the State’s Reliance on Aging Electronic Voting Machines

philadelphia protest

People march in the streets in protest of the election of Republican Donald Trump on November 9, 2016 in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trump’s victory was widely seen as an upset. (Getty)

Even before the election, news reports were raising concerns about Pennsylvania’s voting machines. The Los Angeles Times ran a story in which one expert dubbed the possibility of a Pennsylvania recount a “nightmare scenario” because the state largely uses electronic voting machines so aging they look like old washing machines.

NBC News said more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters use electronic machines that don’t have paper back ups. NBC said Pennsylvania is one of 15 states to rely this heavily on electronic voting machines.

The Los Angeles Times also said Pennsylvania was one of the only states in the country that almost entirely uses computerized machines for voting. The newspaper said there aren’t paper ballots to back them up. In contrast, Wisconsin uses a mixture of paper ballots and electronic machines, and Michigan uses paper ballots.

Because the election hadn’t happened yet when it was written, the LA Times news article was, perhaps somewhat ironically, focused on Donald Trump’s claims of election vote rigging.

The Los Angeles Times wrote 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.”

3. The Machines Were Kept in a Warehouse & Experts Said it Would be Very Time Consuming to Hack Them

HERSHEY, PA - NOVEMBER 04: Donald Trump walks onto the stage at a rally on November 4, 2016 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make their final pitches to the American people, recent polls show a tightening race in crucial swing states. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Donald Trump walks onto the stage at a rally on November 4, 2016 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Getty)

Before the election, though, experts told CBS Pittsburgh it would be difficult to hack the machines because they are an “island” upon themselves, meaning they are not connected to each other and would, thus, have to be hacked individually. There are 4,500 machines, and they were stored in a warehouse, the station said.

The TV station quoted an expert as saying it would take about four months to hack them all. The machines are not connected to the internet, said NBC.

On Election Day, some voters in Pennsylvania reported that the machines were changing their Trump votes to Hillary Clinton.

NBC News said some citizens sued the state a decade ago, “arguing the lack of a paper trail made hand recounts impossible, which could leave the outcome of an election in doubt” but lost the case.

4. The State Has Outlined a Process for the Recount Even Without Paper Backups

The Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s Office published a detailed handout (above) on how a recount process works. In a county in which an election district uses an electronic voting system that does not utilize paper ballots, “the county board must conduct the recanvass similar to the procedure used to recanvass the vote cast on voting machines,” the Secretary of State says.

The county board “must make a record of the number of the seal upon the voting machine
and the number on the protective counter or other device.” The board must “make visible the registering counters of the machine, and without unlocking the machine against voting, recanvass the vote cast on the machine.”

The board is then to “recanvass by examining the totals tape on each machine, which shall constitute the recount total.”

If there is a discrepancy, “the county board of elections must unlock the voting and counting mechanism of the system and examine and test the system to determine the cause of the discrepancy,” the handout reads. “In this case, the counter must be reset at zero before it is tested, after which it must be operated at least 100 times. After the examination and test has been completed, the machine inspector must prepare a written statement detailing the result of the examination and test.”

Exit polls showed Clinton winning Pennsylvania, and the discrepancy between the final results and those polls (5.6%) was among the highest in the country, according to

5. A Group of Professors & Lawyers Has Raised Concerns About the Election Results

electoral map

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

A group of professors and lawyers met with the Clinton campaign to press for recounts. New York Magazine chronicled their efforts, saying the group believes it has found election anomalies in Wisconsin’s results because counties with electronic voting machines had less Clinton support than counties without them. However, others have pointed out this could be due to a rural/urban split in how Clinton was perceived, as well as other demographic variables, and other statisticians have ridiculed the claims.

No evidence has been offered proving fraud, but the group feels previous hacks attributed to the Russians means the election’s integrity should be verified.

Vox published an article outlining flaws in the claims, pointing out that white rural voters all over the Midwest shifted to Trump, including in states that use only paper ballots (like Iowa.) Vox says Michigan only uses paper ballots. Statistician Nate Silver is also skeptical about the claims.

Clinton’s campaign counsel, Marc Elias, wrote in a post on that 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.”

There have been other reasons cited for Clinton’s loss in Pennsylvania. The state received news its residents would face one of the largest Obamacare premium increases in the country in late October. Clinton’s comments on coal were poorly received.

She did not mobilize her base in urban areas to the degree that Barack Obama had, and Pennsylvania was not a state with robust early voting. Economic stress and a desire for a change candidate could also have motivated some white working class voters in the state to vote for Trump. Some polls showed Trump voters had more enthusiasm and that voters were motivated by concerns over jobs and other economic issues. Some felt Trump’s position on trade appealed to some Pennsylvanians.

Trump has kept busy tweeting about Fidel Castro’s death and announcing cabinet picks. Trump had stayed silent on the recount efforts until November 26, when he released a statement calling them a “scam.” Trump then unleashed a slew of tweets saying nothing will change and pointing out that Clinton criticized him during a debate for saying the election was rigged.

“The people have spoken and the election is over, and as Hillary Clinton herself said on election night, in addition to her conceding by congratulating me, ‘We must accept this result and then look to the future,’” Trump said, calling the recount “ridiculous.”

In his most controversial tweet, Trump claimed, without offering any evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. (Read more about this unproven claim and its possible conspiracy theory origins here.)

His campaign chairwoman, Kellyanne Conway, did tweet a single comment making fun of the efforts.

During the presidential campaign, Trump was the one claiming the country’s electoral process was “rigged.” Conway told Bloomberg, “What a pack of sore losers. After asking Mr. Trump and his team a million times on the trail, ‘Will HE accept the election results?’ it turns out Team Hillary and her new BFF Jill Stein can’t accept reality.” Stein was critical of Clinton during the election.

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