Will the presidential election vote recounts make a difference?

What the facts say about recounts

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote handily —  306 to 232 — but with Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin climbing over 2 million amidst pushes for recounts in key states, it seems like the endless 2016 presidential election is indeed endless.

Just what is going on regarding recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan? Here’s a look at the facts:

Why is Wisconsin doing a recount?

Trump won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, but he did it with a 1 percent, 27,257 edge in the popular vote. A call for a recount in the Badger State began last Tuesday following a New York Magazine piece that reported “prominent computer scientists and election lawyers” found that Clinton’s results appeared skewed against her in counties where voters used electronic voting machines versus counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. “Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000,” the article stated. The article, which also recommended recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, noted that the scientists and lawyers reported no actual evidence of election interference, only questions resulting from their analysis.

Why did Green Party candidate Jill Stein get involved?

Last Wednesday, Stein — who received just less than 31,000 votes in Wisconsin — launched an online campaign to raise money to perform recounts in the three swing-states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — citing experts’ suggestion that independent reviews be conducted.

Stein posted the reasoning behind championing the recount effort on her website: “Independently funded candidates like Jill Stein cannot stand a chance if our electoral system is rigged in favor of establishment, corporate-funded candidates. The evidence so far shows it is easy to hack many voting machines being used in elections.”

As of Monday, her campaign reported it had raised $6 million of the $6 to $7 million it needed for recounts in all three states.

What is the timeline for the recounts?

The Wisconsin recount is expected to begin on Thursday, and, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, federal law requires that all presidential election disputes must be resolved 35 days after the general election. That means the deadline for completing recounts is Dec. 13.

Meanwhile, Stein also filed for a recount in Pennsylvania on Monday afternoon — right before the deadline. The state has a considerably higher hurdle for filing because candidates can’t file direct requests and can only file a legal appeal to a court or organize a voter-initiated recount effort. The later effort, which Stein’s team pursued, is only possible if three voters in each voting district or precinct request a recount. Recount requests were filed Monday in more than 100 Pennsylvania precincts, according to her campaign.

"The Stein recount effort is mobilizing concerned voters across Pennsylvania to request recounts in their precincts," Stein campaign manager David Cobb said in a statement. "Additionally, the campaign filed a legal petition in state court today on behalf of 100 Pennsylvania voters to protect their right to substantively contest the election in Pennsylvania beyond the recounts being filed by voters at the precinct level. This petition will allow the campaign to pursue a full statewide recount in Pennsylvania if precinct-level recounts uncover any irregularities or tampering.”

In Michigan, the state’s Board of Canvassers certified Monday that Trump had won the state. Now that the ruling is official, Stein has until Wednesday to request a recount from the secretary of state. The secretary of state said research is underway to determine exactly what the timeline would be.

How is a recount conducted?

In Wisconsin, Stein and another independent candidate, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente,” must provide the money for the recount by Tuesday, according to an Elections Commission memorandum. The state rejected Stein’s request for a recount by hand — leaving it up to the officials in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to decide whether they will conduct the recount by hand or by machine. Stein still could challenge the hand-count decision in court but time is not on her side.

It’s likely that similar plans will be outlined in Pennsylvania and Michigan if Stein successfully forces recounts there.

How is the Clinton campaign participating in the recounts?

While Clinton’s campaign will support Stein’s recount efforts in Wisconsin and say they would join recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, members of her team have been quick to point out they are not spearheading the move.

In fact, members of the Clinton campaign say they opted not to try for any recounts immediately following the election after having “not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology.” But with Stein in the drivers seat, Marc Elias, Clinton’s campaign lawyer, said they will participate.

Elias described the decision in a Medium post on Saturday, where he linked their decision largely to President-election Donald Trump’s recent string of tweets insinuating that the reason for Clinton’s popular vote lead was because of fraudulent voting in her favor.

Trump has not cited evidence for his claim.

“We are getting attacked for participating in a recount that we didn't ask for by the man who won election but thinks there was massive fraud,” Elias said.

Establishment Democrats have also been reluctant to suggest there was any election wrongdoing. A senior White House official told Politico Friday, “We stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people. The federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on Election Day.”

What does history say about the likelihood that recounts will change the outcome of the presidential election?

Election recounts rarely reverse election results. A Vox analysis done through FairVote found that recounts don’t typically swing enough votes to change a winner. Looking back through 4,687 statewide general elections from 2000 to 2015, only 27 were followed by recounts, and, of those, only three resulted in a change in the outcome.

The 2016 recounts are reminders of the 2000 election when Al Gore challenged George Bush’s victory in Florida. While the recount ultimately resulted in handing Gore 1,247 votes that originally went for of Bush, it was ultimately not enough to flip the state in Gore’s favor. Experts believe recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are unlikely to result in an Electoral College victory for Clinton. 

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