Recount, JilL Stein, election 2016
Jill Stein Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Sagredo / Wikipedia

A member of Jill Stein’s team told WhoWhatWhy the inflated price tag Wisconsin election officials slapped on last year’s recount was part of an effort to dissuade the Green Party candidate from having the state’s presidential election audited.

“They were trying to discourage us from doing the recount, so they jacked the price way up,” Rick Lass, a Stein campaign advisor, told WhoWhatWhy after it was revealed that the recount ended up costing a lot less than officials had projected. “We aren’t very pleased with the process.”

A lot of eyebrows were raised when the state of Wisconsin asked Stein to pay $3.5 million upfront to fund the recount. After all, as WhoWhatWhy reported, a previous statewide recount had been a lot less expensive. It turns out that the skeptics were right.

The final cost of the Wisconsin recount came in at just over $2 million, state election officials announced last week.

Inflated from an initial $1.1 million estimate just days before the filing deadline, the exorbitant fee was one of several obstacles the Green Party faced in its recount campaign across three battleground states — in addition to cynical press coverage, challenges from Donald Trump’s legal team, and obstructionist judges.

The difference will be returned to the campaign. In total, Stein’s camp raised $7.3 million from 161,000 donors for the recount effort in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, more than what the Green Party nominee had received during her past two presidential runs.

Wisconsin was the only state where a full recount moved forward: courts in Michigan and Pennsylvania blocked the Green Party’s efforts there, highlighting the difficulty of auditing the vote in the three states where Trump’s margins were slimmest and polls predicted a Clinton win.

Besides the exorbitant filing fee, Wisconsin’s recount was marred by the fact that many counties simply ran their ballots through the same optical vote scanners they’d used originally. Election integrity experts warn that such machines are susceptible to hacking — via malware inserted by portable media, for instance, though there are many different methods — and only a paper audit could ensure accuracy.

“Asking the same hardware and software the same question again should give you the same answer,” said Philip B. Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California-Berkeley and one of six election integrity experts who submitted affidavits at the time in favor of a mandated hand-count. “That’s why you need to check it using a different method.”

Among counties whose clerks opted for machine scans were three of Wisconsin’s five largest counties — Milwaukee, Brown, and Racine. And in several other counties, only machines or a partial hand-count were used, leading to what an exasperated Stein termed “half a recount.”

A suit by the campaign to compel all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to hand-count was batted down by a state judge who said she could not order it under state law, though personally she thought it prudent.

Recruited by the Stein campaign, volunteers fanned out across the state to oversee the 12-day recount in December. In several cases they reported irregularities, as captured in journalist’s Lulu Friesdat’s short documentary on the effort.

In one scene of the film, volunteer Liz Whitlock asks for a hand count of one precinct in Racine County after she and others, using manual clickers, note that a string of 18 ballots in a precinct were erroneously counted by the machine as undervotes — meaning there was no selection for president.

After filing an objection, her request to manually recount the 310 votes is denied by a county clerk staff member, who declares “I’m not going to do a hand count for anybody” and threatens to kick Whitlock out.

“I am just stunned at how inaccurate the whole thing is,” Whitlock says in the film.

WhoWhatWhy, which covered the recounts extensively, noted many of these issues while the audit took place.

The recount ultimately confirmed Trump’s victory, even adding 131 votes to the president-elect’s margin, bringing it to 22,748. Just over 1,500 previously uncounted votes were tallied the second time around, a discrepancy the Election Commission’s spokesman, Reid Magney, chalked up to “some forgotten ballots,” absentee ballots, and others that weren’t properly filled out.

Magney also contested the $1.1 million initial estimate, arguing it may have been given as an unofficial estimate based on the smaller-scale 2011 recount and that he had to wait to hear back from all the country clerks before offering the Stein campaign a final estimate. Going forward, he said, the Commission would look to make additional changes in training election judges, but that the machines performed as intended.

“People will believe what they’re going to believe about the accuracy of the election results, but the fact that the results were so close, I think, should reaffirm people’s confidence in the election,” Magney told WhoWhatWhy.

Lass, the Stein advisor, said some of the remaining funds would be set aside for continuing legal expenses in all three states. Michigan has not yet refunded the $970,000 the campaign paid for the recount there, even though the recount was halted by a state appeals court after only three days of ballot counting. Appeals are still pending in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The campaign is determining how much will be left over when all is said and done. Stein had said part of the money would be used to create Count My Vote, an election transparency group in Wisconsin. Donors will be polled in the next few weeks as to what should be done with the rest of the money, which has been segregated in its own account.

“The big lesson learned is that our elections are not verifiable,” Lass said. “It’s not acceptable. We need to know that our votes are being counted.”

With so much controversy swirling around this election — as well as others in the recent past — it is truly shocking that state officials, judges and laws continue to place so many obstacles in the path of an audit that would ensure the will of the people was heard.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from ballots (Joe Hall / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

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David S
David S
4 years ago

First, this was an obvious ploy to try and stop Trump. Given her previous comments about Hillary versus Trump, I can only figure she is getting a nice lake-front home like Bernie for her “efforts” as she obviously had NO reason to have anything recounted for her benefit. Second, she should know by now that the two-party oligarchy runs this country, its elections, and every state and local jurisdiction. There is no way a 3rd party candidate would EVER get a fair shake from these two criminal parties. They are in place to make folks believe they have a choice so nobody will notice that no matter who is in power, the people lose and the big-business globalist crony capitalists win (less global and more local crony capitalists at the state and local levels).

4 years ago

I quit the GP over this. The recount places the Greens firmly in the Dems’ orbit, and does nothing to advance or even draw attention to Green platform initiatives specific to elections, Which can be found right on the GP website at the very top of the platform A-1.

Should have used the election results to point out how bankrupt the DNC is and “this is why you should have voted 3rd party”.

Alvy Singer
Alvy Singer
4 years ago
Reply to  Blaine

Understandable for you to feel as you do. I may be wrong, but it seemed that the Stein campaign acted unilaterally without the support of the party itself and despite the fact that many in the party objected to her decision including her running mate Ajamu Baraka, who agrees with you when he stated in a CNN interview, “It would be seen as carrying the water for the Democrats”.

4 years ago
Reply to  Alvy Singer

I went on the State website and asked if NY GP had endorsed this recount and where the authority had come from to act on behalf of the GP. There had been no official statement made at that point and I was really hoping this was just Stein running off a bit – if I looked closer I’d find my former party hadn’t really been co-opted.

A few days later, and without addressing my inquiry, the NYS GP made an announcement they were endorsing the recount. Don’t they realize many Greens are former Dems who wouldn’t vote Dem if it meant staying home instead? Not to mention the party platform on many issues has become so pie in the sky it’s no longer credible.

I’m starting my own party, the Paycheck Party – “for anyone who works for a living”

-Flat tax on all income, no deductibles, no exemptions except for retirees

– claw back clause on all international trade deals – cyclic recertification required, automatic termination if results in increased unemployment or drop in average real pay after inflation

– repeal of “right to work” laws and other provisions of Taft -Hartley

– option for individuals to receive stock dividends tax free in exchange for waiving limited liability.

– option for businesses to eliminate or prevent union organizing in exchange for pre-paying employees, including payroll contributions

– reduction of defense spending and/or partially nationalizing defense suppliers. Govt seizure of company stock in event of cost overruns. Closure of 30% of all foreign bases/reduction of 30% overseas operation costs with a 50% reduction for a goal

– full disclosure of lobbying activities – rigorous conflict of interest applied to elected officials with criminal penalties

– requiring corporations to retain in trust enough capital to cover decommissioning of facilities and or covering environmental liabilities. In the event of a major environmental disaster, trading of stocks are to be frozen. Exceeding recoverable physical capital, corporate veil discarded – the public will not pay to clean up industrial environmental releases or related damages until the corporation and its stock and bond holders have been exhausted

– military aid to foreign govts/ entities to be done by public referendum

– all Federal salaries to be made a fixed percentage of the Federal minimum wage.

– pentagon accounting to be made transparent and accurate or the JoS to be fired by seniority and stripped of any health or pension benefits

– electoral districts to be established by geographic boundaries or by most simple inclusive grid system.

– absolute protection of whistleblowers and review of disclosures by rotating appointment civilian review board with subpoena power

– eminent domain reform. Land owners have option to become liability protected partners in any concern which claims all or some of their real property. Market value of property to include potential future profits derived therefrom for a period of 8 years

– elimination of civil forfeiture laws

– jurors must be appraised of their power of nullification

– No employment or appointment of private to public or public to private in regulatory or procurement capacity for a period of 10 years

– end subsidies to fossil fuel industries

4 years ago
Reply to  Blaine

And that all members of Congress be subjected to the same healthcare as they voted for citizens!

4 years ago
Reply to  amuncat


I’d also like to abolish all federal pensions – folks can get SocSec like everybody else.

Doesn’t make sense for the private sector to pay their salary for an entire career, and then pay for a better retirement than most of them will ever see. You want better than that, better fund your 401k and see how it feels to have a defined contribution/no guarantee retirement.

The creeps would sure figure out a way to keep it solvent.

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