Part Eight: Recount This
The recount effort that overnight mobilized over ten thousand volunteers and raised over $9 million, ended on December 12th. Although it raised the hopes of millions, it was clearly doomed from the start. Ultimately, though it will be a tiny footnote to the broader story, it is part of the story, and a timeline of its major aspects certainly places it in the “madness” category of this essay series. Join me as, once more we enter the muck of hardball politics and media silliness.
11/21: Federal judges rule that Wisconsin’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts to favor Republicans was an unconstitutional, partisan gerrymander.
11/23: Jill Stein announces a fund drive to pay for recounts. Many Greens, including her running mate Ajamu Baraka, oppose the effort. He says, “It would be seen as carrying the water for the Democrats.” On the Democratic side, one insider suggests
…it probably was the Stein people looking for a way to stay relevant, raise some money and take the stink off of them. Instead of everybody screaming, ‘You made Trump happen,’ she is (wants) to change that whole narrative.
Several computer scientists publicly urge the Clinton campaign to call for recounts in three states, noting that she had received 7% fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic voting machines compared to those that had used paper ballots.
11/24: The Washington Post publishes its extraordinarily mendacious “Fake News” article. The Greens file for a recount in Michigan.
11/25: In Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin of victory is 27,000, a record 300,000 registered voters lacked the newly required ID and could not vote. The state had the lowest turnout in 20 years. It was down by more than 50,000 in Milwaukee where 70 % of the state’s African-American population lives. Evidence of foul play is exposed in three precincts in Outagamie County, each claiming that more people had voted in the presidential race than had voted. County officials imply that the same honest error was made in three precincts – and that in all of them, Trump was a huge beneficiary of that error. Embarrassed officials quickly delete over five thousand Trump votes and zero Clinton votes before the recount has even begun. Stein raises over $4.5 million in three days.
11/26: Trump tweets that the recount attempt is a “scam.”
11/27: Trump tweets that he’d won in a landslide, “…if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” The White House insists on the “overall integrity of the electoral infrastructure,” which ensured results that “accurately reflect the will of the American people.”
11/28: The Clinton campaign, giving in to public pressure, half-heartedly announces that it will join the recount effort “as an observer” but will not contest the results of the election. In Wisconsin, the Greens cite differing margins of victory for Trump based on the voting technology used and inexplicably high voter turnout (up to 85 %) in many rural counties. The state government, solidly controlled by Republicans, rejects Stein’s request that all paper ballots be counted by hand, announcing that each of its 72 counties can decide what to do. Stein sues; the state responds by tripling the recount fee to $3.5 million.
She faces similar problems in Pennsylvania, where most counties have no paper trail or use central tabulators that are so old and simple that computer security academics use them in their classrooms to show students how easily voting can be hacked. But rather than making the obvious accusation of Republican vote-flipping, Stein repeats the Clinton line: she seeks the recount not to prevent Trump from stealing the election, but rather to stop Russian hackers from interfering.
11/30: Members of the Electoral College – The “Hamilton Electors” – call on electors from both parties to unite in rejecting Trump and backing a more “reasonable” Republican like John Kasich. Michigan announces a full, statewide hand recount.
12/1: A federal court rejects Trump’s request to stop the Wisconsin recount, and it begins. Three counties that had unexpected surges to Trump, including Outagamie County, refuse to hand count their paper ballots when they have an option to machine-scan them. Trump petitions to stop Michigan’s recount, hoping to delay the process and make it harder to complete before presidential electors convene. Meanwhile, one of his people is convicted of election fraud from 2012.
Stein, who has raised nearly $7 million in a week, sues to speed up the Michigan recount and repeats that her goal is not to change the election result but to ensure “the integrity and accuracy of the vote.” Clinton’s national vote lead increases to over 2.5 million. Philadelphia voluntarily chooses to recount, and causes Pennsylvania to revise the numbers, shrinking Trump’s lead from 71,000 to 47,000. The state is now within 0.2% of triggering an automatic statewide recount. But the court will not allow recounts in any precincts until three voters in the precinct present affidavits to support the recount. Of 9,000 precincts only about 30% can be hand-recounted. In Michigan, his lead shrinks from 13,000 to under 11,000, again before the recount begins. A nonprofit group in Florida sues to force a recount there.
12/2: The Michigan Attorney General (a Republican) sues to block the recount, but the Board of Canvassers deadlocks. Trump advisor Roger Stone threatens Clinton with indictment if she joins in the recount effort. Researchers announce that 75,000 people in Michigan had mysteriously cast no vote for president —almost twice as many than were cast in 2012 – and these “under-votes” were concentrated in the heavily Democratic precincts of Detroit. Trump sues in Pennsylvania. A federal judge refuses to stop the Wisconsin recount. A Stein observer there posts visual evidence that five of the nine voting machines in her county had tampered seals that come with the warning label that “Removal of seal voids warranty.”
12/4: In Democratic-leaning Milwaukee County, five hundred disputed votes that the Trump campaign is trying to reject are ruled as valid. The Wall Street Journal falsely announces that the Greens have given up in Pennsylvania. The Greens take the Pennsylvania case to federal court. Mike Pence and Reince Preibus assert that Trump was “entitled” to his claim that millions had voted illegally.
12/5: A Michigan judge orders an immediate start to the recount, and for the state to “assemble necessary staff to work sufficient hours” to complete the recount by a Dec. 13 federal deadline. In Wisconsin, Nineteen counties refuse to let the recounters look at all the evidence. In an interview, Greg Palast says, “Don’t call it the recount. Call it the count of those votes that never were counted.” He estimates that 4-5 million votes were not counted in this election. Even so, he argues, Trump actually lost Wisconsin and Michigan by landslides.
12/6: Heavily-Democratic Wayne County announces that half of Detroit votes may be ineligible to be recounted because of problems with the ballots. The city’s election director blames the discrepancies on the city’s ancient voting machines, 87 of which broke down on Election Day. 392 of the city’s 662 precincts, nearly 60 percent, could not reconcile the number of votes cast according to the machines with the number of ballots issued according to the electoral rolls. He argues that according to state law only those precincts that can be reconciled can be included in the recount. His circular argument posits that the destruction of evidence by those being investigated should be grounds for not continuing with the investigation. The same situation is present in other southeastern Michigan counties with communities of color such as Flint and Lansing.
Stein points out that there were 75,000 “under-votes” in Michigan, ballots that were filled out except for the vote for President—70 % higher than the number in 2012. A Michigan judge orders the state to undo its previous approval of the recount, and the state Attorney General insists that state courts have the power to stop the recount. A federal court overrules them.
12/7: Stein moves to get two Republican justices of the Michigan Supreme Court disqualified from the case because Trump has mentioned both of them as potential nominees for the United States Supreme Court. The state passes a bill retroactively requiring the Greens to pay more for the recount. Other Michigan counties disqualify entire precincts from the recount. The Ingham county clerk admits,
If there’s damage to the plastic containers storing the ballots, or if the seal number on the containers doesn’t match the poll books, then there is a very good possibility that precinct will not be recountable.
Twenty-five Wisconsin counties use the same unreliable machines for their recount as on election night. This means that those machine-counted votes are counted less than the hand-counted votes in the other 47 and violates the Equal Protection Clause which was the central holding in Bush v. Gore, that similar ballots must be counted in the same way.
Since hand counts are being used in many of Wisconsin’s rural and predominantly white counties and machines are being used in many counties with large minority populations like Milwaukee and Racine, the failure to use a hand recount in all counties creates uneven results and racial disparities in the count. Several Republican super PACs use this argument to sue to stop the recount. Officials admit that many of Wisconsin’s voting machines are indeed connected to the Internet and are theoretically hackable.
12/8: Several Wisconsin counties (including Brown County, where Trump received seven times the average victory margin of the GOP nominee in the last four presidential elections) decide not to preserve images of paper ballots they had counted using electronic scanners.
12/10: A federal judge blocks Florida’s attempt to throw out tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, and accuses the Secretary of State of “delaying a hearing on the lawsuit, so that he could use every second available to run out the clock.” The state refuses to respond to the lawsuit demanding a recount until after the deadline.
12/11: Stein presses her appeal in Pennsylvania, arguing that over 4,000 people in Montgomery County, which supported Clinton over Trump by 21 points, had voted, only to find their ballots certified as “non-votes.” Hundreds had discovered the mistake within moments, when the machines recorded they had shown up but kept returning their ballots with no votes cast. In the following days, many of them were shunted from one office to another as they tried to submit petitions to have their ballot counted. Those who persisted were confronted with filing fees of as much as $500 or ultimately told they had missed a deadline.
12/12: The Wisconsin recount ends with Trump’s lead increasing by 130 votes. Pennsylvania certifies Trump as its winner hours after a federal judge blocks Stein’s push for a recount, saying her suspicion of hacking “borders on the irrational.” The same Democratic spokespersons and media who have agreed with this assessment continue pointing to Russian hackers.
12/13: Michigan officials discover that 37% of precincts in Detroit tabulated more ballots than the number of voters tallied by workers in the poll books. A federal judge in Michigan halts the recount after about half of the ballots are checked, with a “no fraud” conclusion. Clinton gains 102 votes. Trump wins the state despite getting 30,000 fewer votes than George W. Bush did when he lost it in 2004.
Republicans in Missouri move to institute new voting ID restrictions for the next election. In Wisconsin, Republicans announced plans for new restrictions on early voting. As Stein said, the recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin “looked everywhere except in the areas of greatest risk.”
There are many technical issues, such as how to recount votes that were cast electronically and have no paper trail, or how to reconcile the hundreds of different systems used in the states. On the face of it, the recount was doomed to fail because of these issues and because there was no effective way to address the massive elephant in the living room – the pervasive and successful drive to strip several million people of their right to vote.
I remain perplexed by some major questions:
1 – What did Jill Stein want? Many members of the Green Party publicly opposed the recount effort. She never challenged the basic narrative offered by both Democrats as well as Republicans. Nor did she make what should have been the obvious criticism of Republican stripping and flipping. Indeed, her effort served to legitimize the narrative that blamed Clinton’s defeat on Russian hackers – as if the primary enemy of a progressive America were a foreign government rather than its own oligarchs – when the only claims of such involvement came from U.S. intelligence agencies.
And why did the Stein campaign only seek recounts in three states where Trump won? Why were recounts not sought in states where Democrats won too? The answer to this one, at least, is obvious: There were no signs pointing to fraud, no divergence between announced results and exit polls. But this not-seeking also gave the appearance that Stein was supporting the Democrats.
Stein did raise her money (far more than she’d raised for her entire campaign) from some 160,000 people who gave an average of less than $50 apiece, most of whom have not given to Green candidates before. Ten thousand volunteers signed up to help the drive. She’s not allowed to keep what she didn’t spend, and she’s promised to donate it to groups that research election fraud. But she does have a huge addition to her mailing list. Perhaps that’s what it was all about.
2 – Why did media gatekeepers first ignore the recount effort and then treat it with responses running from disdain to outright sarcasm? Why was much of the information that I’ve gathered reported accurately in local news outlets in the three states in question but ignored on the national level, even by media obviously favoring Clinton, the same media that makes such a stink about Russian hackers? Perhaps the time-honored tactics of first marginalizing progressives and then blaming the evil “Other” are more consistent with a narrative that Democrats and Republicans share: the system itself works just fine, and trouble comes only from the outside. But this idea only punts us over to a deeper question:
3 – Why don’t the Democrats ever contest the results of obviously hacked elections? Neither Al Gore nor John Kerry has ever supported investigations into the massive irregularities in 2000 and 2004. Kerry had actually raised a $7 million legal fund to protect the 2004 balloting, but never allocated any of it to an independent investigation and did nothing to fund or support an Ohio recount that might have given him the Presidency.
This is, to me, the biggest mystery in American politics in the 21st century (9-11? That’s easy). Why, after exerting themselves beyond the physical and emotional capacities of people a third their age – seven days a week for a year, two years, for their entire adult lives, in pursuit of this ultimate affirmation of their own value – why would people such as Gore, Kerry and Clinton not take the relatively small steps of endorsing legitimate investigations that might overturn their defeats?
In the Democratic primaries the Sanders campaign certainly had reason to challenge corrupted results in California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and other places. But they didn’t. Bruce Dixon suggests:
Apparently staying in the club with Hillary and the DNC was more important than standing up for the people who voted for him, or the principles they believed in. So there were no challenges.
Indeed, Why haven’t the Democrats gone to further lengths to publicize, expose and fight the entire edifice of stripping and flipping?
These questions can only take us into the realm of pure speculation; so here we go:
1 – Democrats really do believe in the fairness of the election process, and in the American myths that underlie it – except that they clearly did to Bernie what they allowed Trump to do to them.
2 – Clinton had (still has) a reasonable fear of being indicted – but neither Gore nor Kerry did.
3 – The thing was rigged from the start and the Democrats knew all along – but why did they fight so hard, at least until November 8th? And why did they resurrect the bogus charges of Russian hackers?
4 – As Jesse Jackson asks, “Is it because neither party thinks suppression of the votes of people of color and the young is an unacceptable outrage?”
5 – What do you think?