MADISON, Wis. — Elections officials in three states will have to move quickly if the Green Party's presidential nominee, Jill Stein, is able to force a recount to be conducted by hand.
Stein and Reform Party candidate Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente separately filed recount requests late Friday in Wisconsin — the state's first ever for a presidential race — on the final day they were able to do so. As liberals raised fears about hacked voting machines, Stein has raised more than $5 million to pay for recounts here and in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where recount deadlines are next week.
That's more than the $3.5 million she raised as a candidate.
Hitting a Dec. 13 federal deadline to certify electoral votes — 10 in Wisconsin, 16 in Michigan and 20 in Pennsylvania — could be particularly tricky in a by-hand recount, Wisconsin's top election official said.
"You may potentially have the state electoral votes at stake if it doesn't get done by then," said Michael Haas, the administrator of the Wisconsin Election Commission. A lawyer with Stein's campaign has said she wants the recount done by hand, something that Haas said would require a judge's order in Wisconsin and take longer in general.
Stein received just 1% of the vote in each of the three states. De La Fuente had about 1,500 votes in Wisconsin, a fraction of a percent of those cast here, and he was not on the ballot in the other two states.
“What we’re doing is standing up for an election system that we can trust. We deserve to have votes that we can believe in,” Stein said in a video on her Facebook page. “This is a commitment that Greens have expressed — that we stand for election integrity, that we support voting systems that respect our vote. We demand voting systems that are accurate, that are publicly controlled, that are not privatized.”
Unofficial vote tallies in the three states show GOP nominee Donald Trump won Michigan by fewer than 12,000 votes, Wisconsin by fewer than 30,000 votes and Pennsylvania by fewer than 70,000 votes.
A federal "safe harbor" law requires presidential recounts to be completed within 35 days of the election. This year that's Dec. 13, two weeks and a day from this coming Monday.
Wisconsin law allows any candidate to seek a recount. The candidate has to pay if he or she lost by more than 0.25%, hence Stein's fundraising. She estimates a Wisconsin recount would cost $1.1 million.
Michigan's price tag could be about $787,500, based on a 2014 law that put the bill at $125 per precinct when the margin of a race is more than half a percentage point. Michigan has 6,300 precincts.
The approximate costs of a recount in Pennsylvania weren't immediately available, but the vote-rich state is being targeted even with its wider Trump victory margin because two-thirds of the state's counties, including its most populous, use electronic voting machines that don't leave a paper trail, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Experts have demonstrated that such machines can be hacked even without being hooked up to the Internet.
Similar machines are scattered in some of the smaller counties in Wisconsin. About 1 in 10 votes in the state's April presidential primary came from such machines.
All of Michigan's voting machines have paper ballots that can be recounted, election officials there said.
An article this week in New York magazine contended that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received 7% fewer votes in counties with electronic voting compared to those with paper ballots.
“Our plans are being drafted” for a recount, said Chris Thomas, director of elections at the Michigan Secretary of State's office. “We’re on top of it. We’ve got some blueprints on how it will be done.”
It's been nearly five decades since Michigan has had a statewide recount, most recently when the state's voters rejected daylight saving time in 1968 by 490 votes. This time, nearly 4.8 million presidential-race votes would have to be counted by hand at the county level under state supervision.
“We’re fast,” Thomas said. “We do all of our state recounts by hand.”
Wisconsin's most recent statewide recount was in 2011 for a state Supreme Court seat, and the outcome did not change. The recount showed Justice David Prosser defeated challenger JoAnne Klopenburg by 7,004 votes — a slightly tighter margin than the 7,316-vote victory he had in initial returns.
In recounts, typically both candidates gain votes, in part because absentee ballots that weren't counted initially get tallied, said political scientist Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some absentee ballots don't get counted at first because they were damaged or had extra marks on them.
The judicial recount took more than a month. This time Wisconsin election officials will have nearly double the number of votes, 3 million, to go through, Burden said.
Pennsylvania has almost 6 million presidential votes to retally in a potential recount.
More important than the Dec. 13 federal deadline is Dec. 19 — three weeks from Monday — when electors across the USA must meet to cast their Electoral College votes, said Edward Foley, an expert in election law at Ohio State University.
"That is a hard deadline, and if a state were to miss that deadline, it would be technically in jeopardy of not having its electoral votes counted," he said.
If any recount isn't complete by then, electors from the states could meet anyway and have their results sent to Congress by the time it counts electoral votes Jan. 6, Foley said. Congress has wide latitude to decide how to count the states' electoral votes.
The push for recounts came as some questioned Trump’s wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But election experts noted that voting patterns in those states were similar to ones in other Midwestern states such as Iowa and Ohio.
The Clinton and Trump campaigns have not commented on the recount effort.
"Jill Stein's decision to pursue a recount is absurd and nothing more than an expensive political stunt that undermines Wisconsin's election process," Mark Morgan, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, said in a statement.
George Martin, who sits on the Green Party's coordinating committee, said Stein is seeking the recount because of concerns about differences between the votes and exit polls, as well as worries of tampering with voting machines. The party is "prepared to delivered certified checks" to meet the estimated costs for the recount as tabulated by the Wisconsin Election Commission.
"We're not saying this is the smoking gun, but there is enough evidence to take a look at our voting system," he said.