Jill Stein’s recount campaign involves only cursory participation from the Hillary Clinton camp or any official arm of the Democratic Party. | Getty
Donald Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in the three states that provided the Republican’s decisive Electoral College majority is only a combined 104,000 votes. But don’t expect that to change.
The odds that Clinton will somehow end up reciting the oath of office on January 20 are extremely low.
Despite pending recounts or audits planned in those three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – the reality is that the results would have to change to such a degree that Clinton would carry all of them. Even Democratic officials in those states insist that the count wouldn’t change that drastically.
Still, Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee who finished fourth in each of the three states, is moving to challenge the election results, citing irregularities in the vote count.
While Stein’s recount campaign involves only cursory participation from the Clinton camp or any official arm of the Democratic Party, it has mobilized progressives seeking to deny Trump the presidency. Stein has raised millions to pay the three states to audit the results or count the ballots again.
But even if recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin, the two closest states, flipped those states to Clinton, the Democrat would still need the 20 electoral votes from Pennsylvania to overtake Trump. And Clinton trails Trump by nearly 71,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
The size of those battleground-state tallies will almost certainly withstand any recount or audit — despite Clinton’s overall lead in the national popular vote, which is approaching 2 percentage points.
Here are 7 questions about the recounts — and why they are unlikely to alter the outcome of the election:
1. What is happening in the 3 states?
Both Michigan and Wisconsin have finalized their vote counts. Stein has filed a challenge to the Wisconsin results, and has until Wednesday to move for a Michigan recount.
The system is different in Pennsylvania. There, the Stein camp has already moved to recount results in more than 100 precincts. It is also pursuing a separate legal effort to initiate a statewide recount by judicial order.
2. What are the questions raised in the states?
In its Wisconsin filing, Stein suggests that the hacking of elections systems and political actors by foreign entities or agents could have been extended to the state’s electronic voting machines. Moreover, Stein said in the filing, “there is evidence of voting irregularities” in Wisconsin, including “a significant increase in the number of absentee voters.”
Stein’s case in Pennsylvania is similar and includes identical supporting materials, including an affidavit from University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman, in which Halderman outlines the cyber vulnerabilities he’s discovered in elections systems.
“One explanation for the results of the 2016 presidential election is that cyberattacks influenced the result,” Halderman says in the affidavit.
“The only way to determine whether a cyberattack affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is to examine the available physical evidence — that is, to count the paper ballots and paper audit trail records, and review voting equipment, to ensure that the votes cast by actual voters match the results determined by the computers,” Halderman’s affidavit continues.
3. Is the Clinton campaign involved in these efforts?
Not really. Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias said last weekend the campaign “intend[s] to participate” in the recount efforts if Stein successfully initiates them.
In a statement posted on the website Medium last Saturday, Elias acknowledged that the campaign has “quietly taken a number of steps in the last two weeks to rule in or out any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally in these critical battleground states.” But, Elias wrote, “that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results.”
Still, Elias said that the Clinton campaign has “an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported.”
4. What is the timeframe for these recounts?
The clock on any effort that delays finalizing the result is ticking. States have only two weeks remaining, until December 13, in which to resolve any challenges to electors.
It’s an open question whether all three states would be able to complete their recounts by that date, however, without incurring increasing staffing costs.
5. How likely is it that any of the results could be overturned?
Elias, the Clinton campaign lawyer, acknowledged as much in his Medium post, writing that “the number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states — Michigan — well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount.”
Democrats in Michigan — even those who support a recount of the vote tally, which shows Trump ahead by 10,704 votes, or a little more than two-tenths of a percentage point — don’t expect the result to change. Julie Matuzak, a Democratic member of the state’s Board of Canvassers, told the Detroit News on Monday, “I don’t think we’re going to find anything wrong.”
Trump’s lead is larger in Wisconsin: 22,177 votes, or roughly three-quarters of a percentage point. Similarly, Democrats don’t see Clinton overtaking Trump in a recount.
“It may not be 22,177,” state Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, said, referring to Trump’s post-recount margin. “But I don’t doubt that the president-elect is going to win that.”
And in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead is even larger, the commonwealth’s Democratic secretary of state, Pedro Cortes, told reporters there is “no evidence whatsoever that points to any type of irregularity in any way, shape or form.”
6. Are there enough electoral votes to deny Trump victory?
Only if all three states flipped to Clinton. Current projections give Trump 306 electoral votes, compared to Clinton’s 232 electoral votes.
Even if recounts in the two states where Trump’s lead is within a single percentage point — Michigan and Wisconsin — were successful in catapulting Clinton to the lead, the president-elect would still maintain an Electoral College majority, 280-258.
Clinton could only overtake Trump by winning all three states. Under that circumstance, she would win, 278-260.
7. Is there a chance that the Electoral College could reject Trump?
This is also very doubtful. After the slates of electors are finalized by December 13, the Electoral College will meet on December 19.
Some Clinton electors are brainstorming ways to deny Trump a majority of electoral votes. The Colorado Independent reported Monday that four of that state’s nine electors plan to appeal to Trump electors in other states to reject their candidate and support someone else. And to back that up, the Colorado Clinton electors will reject their state winner and cast their votes for this other candidate, likely a Republican.
There are myriad obstacles to such an effort, however. The Trump electors are Republicans, many of whom like Trump and want him to be president.
Additionally, twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws on the books designed to punish these “faithless electors” — though the penalties for supporting another individual are often minor.
And even if 37 of the 306 Trump electors defected and denied Trump a majority of electoral votes, it would likely mean that no candidate would win a majority. That would kick the election to the new House of Representatives, with each state’s delegation receiving one vote. Republicans will hold the majority in 32 state delegations in the new House, compared to only 17 Democratic-controlled delegation and one split delegation.