Neither Jill Stein nor Hillary Clinton are realistically expecting the outcome of the 2016 presidential election to change if there are statewide recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Instead, Stein is pushing for contentious and exhaustive recount efforts in each state in part to draw attention to the integrity of the nationwide voting system after a campaign season chock-full of foreign interferences, cyberattacks on the Democratic Party and even a purported hack on electronic voting machines.
Stein raised nearly $6.3 million in donations toward her goal of filing for recounts in three key battleground states where Trump won by small margins. "After a presidential election tarnished by the use of outdated and unreliable machines and accusations of irregularities and hacks, people of all political persuasions are asking if our election results are reliable," Stein said in a statement on Monday. "We must recount the votes so we can build trust in our election system."
The Clinton campaign defended its support for the recount on Medium this week, calling it more a matter of principle than a last-ditch effort to take control of the White House. Marc Elias, the campaign's general council, noted Clinton's margin of loss in each state is higher than any recount producing a change in results in history. Still, a change in the vote totals in Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, no matter how slight, would prove voting in a U.S. presidential election is not as secure as it was once believed to be.
Even if the results don't change, the conversation will. By pushing for recounts in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump won by less than 1 percent, Stein is hoping voters and politicians alike will take a closer look at the country's voting system as a whole, from the typical problems states experience in casting and recording ballots, to the possibility Clinton's election was compromised by international influences. While a recount might not be able to definitively prove electronic voting machines were hacked, the revelation that thousands of votes were submitted incorrectly in either state would shine a light on Stein's belief that the election process needs serious reform.
Perhaps the recount shouldn’t even be called a recount to begin with. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver writes, “Let’s not call it a ‘recount,’ because that’s not really what it is. It’s not as though merely counting the ballots a second or third time is likely to change the results enough to overturn the outcome in three states. ... So what we’re talking about is more like an audit or an investigation. An investigation that would look for signs of deliberate and widespread fraud, such as voting machines’ having been hacked, whole batches of ballots’ intentionally having been disregarded, illegal coordination between elections officials and the campaigns, and so on."
Stein has already filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin to demand a statewide recount of the ballots is performed by hand. She also filed a suit in Pennsylvania to force a recount in the Keystone state, where thousands of voters are required to file signed affidavits demanding the state perform an official recount. Then there’s Michigan, which had been counting votes since Election Day and was the last state to announce its results on Monday, handing Trump the typically blue state’s 16 Electoral College by 10,704 votes. The late announcement opened a 48-hour window in which Stein will have to file an official recount request in order for the process to begin before the state deadline.
Officials in Wisconsin have called Stein's claims of a flawed system unfounded. "If nothing else, this is going to give us a very good audit, it’s going to reassure Wisconsin voters that we have a fair system, that we’re not counting illegal votes," Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen told CNN. "To say we didn’t count them correctly the first time… that somehow illegal votes were counted… is really inappropriate. I don’t think we’ll find in this that our fellow citizens counted these votes (in)accurately… We’re not counting dead people’s votes."
It’s unclear if each of the three states will be able to file their recount results by the federal deadline of Dec. 13. If a state begins the process of an official recount and misses that date, they run the risk of not having their electoral votes count. The Electoral College convenes Dec. 19 to cast their official ballots. Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would have to perform their recounts by Dec. 13 and Clinton would have to flip each state in order for the election results to change – a feat that has never happened in American presidential election history.