Just When You Thought It Was Over…


The election has come and gone, and Donald Trump is President. However, some are beginning to say it is not over. As of Saturday the Obama administration has officially conceded,[1]claiming that the results are correct and we should all begin to engage the new administration, several movements are taking place that have resulted in states conducting recounts of the results. Because Clinton won the popular vote by a fairly significant margin, many are suspicious of possible cyber manipulation or miscounts of the results and are demanding officials take a second look. Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, has raised almost $6 million[2] dollars in just a few short weeks to help push the effort forward. Many are proud of her effort, but are disappointed that this sudden push for Clinton did not come before the election.

So as the recounts take over the news for the next several weeks, it is essential to understand the process, the reasoning, historical precedent, and what is at stake. At the moment Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania will be recounted, but several other states may come into play. Many question if this truly matters, as the median vote gain from a recount has been about 219[3] and President elect Trump won each of those states by much larger outcomes, but most voters appreciate taking the time to get it right. Below we will explore several different ideas regarding the upcoming recounts to help make us aware of what to expect in the coming weeks.

What is a recount?

To understand what is going on right now, we must first understand what a political recount is! Obviously, a recount is a method of checking to make sure all votes were properly accounted for, and to also double check that there weren’t too many votes for one candidate. According to NCSL.org (National Conference of State Legislatures), 43 States permit a losing candidate to request one. Recount costs are paid by the petitioner for most states, meaning generally the losing party has to find money to pay for a recount. Recounts are very difficult because of the many different ways voters can vote. As a result, it is difficult to find errors in voting patterns, and raw data is difficult to sift through.


A Brief History of Very Close American Recounts

There have been very few recounts in American Elections. In 1974 there was a recount for a senate seat. After the recount, the original winner still won. However, the senate felt that a rerun should occur (due to the data given), and ironically the challenger ended up winning by a far larger margin. [1] A few years later, in Minnesota, the gubernatorial race ended with a margin of fewer than 200 votes. After the recount (which took about 3 months), the challenger actually won the election, and was able to come into office. Everybody knows about the presidential election in 2000, Bush v. Gore. Due to “Machine counting, hand counting, ballot inspection, and disputes over absentee votes,”[1] the results were extremely difficult to recount. The supreme court ended up suspending the recount, and giving Bush the election. The next recount to occur was also in Minnesota, where Democratic candidate (and previous SNL writer) Al franken ended up winning the recount. (same source)

Because of the few times in our county’s history where we’ve required a recount for a large election (Congress/Presidential), we have very little to know about what is going to happen regarding Clinton and Trump.

What’s Happening in 2016

As of last week, Jill Stein had raised over $6 million for her recount campaign – making it easily the largest third party donation campaign history and nearly doubling the amount she received during the 2016 election.[1] The question is whether the momentum behind Stein’s recount movement is primarily a product of liberal bitterness or of legitimate allegations of fraud.


Recount State Rules and Margins

Stein is pushing for recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – three battleground states that were projected to go to Hillary. Trump’s margin of victory in each state was 0.3%, 1.2%, and 0.7%, respectively. These margins may sound low, but they are significantly larger than the largest margin ever to have been overturned by recount.

Automatic recount laws exist in 20 states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. However, the margins in the 2016 election were too large to trigger either state to conduct a recount. Additionally, the deadline has passed for requesting a recount in Pennsylvania, which will require Stein to petition one in court. Stein’s campaign will be responsible for paying all associated costs for any recount.


Wisconsin – Recount in Progress

In Wisconsin, where a recount has already begun, Donald Trump is thought to have won by over 22,000 votes. The Wisconsin recount will involve a rigorous audit of over 100 reporting centers. New vote totals will established by hand counting all properly marked ballots from selected counties, and re-running electronically tabulated ballots through electronic voting equipment.[1] Because the recount is meant to be a transparent process, the public is welcome to be present. The cost of the Wisconsin recount is expected to be higher than the $520,000 it cost to recount half as many ballots (1.5 million vs. 3 million) in 2011, and the federal deadline for the results is December 13, 2016.[2]


Likely Outcomes

The recount and fraud media storyline appears to have received attention due to an emotional response by Democrats rather than due to actual evidence of fraud. The margins of victory in the recount states are well beyond what could be overturned by a recount except in the case of large-scale fraud. Additionally, it’s not clear that a recount would be capable of detecting such fraud, especially in the case of Pennsylvania, where the availability of direct electronic voting doesn’t leave physical evidence behind to be cross-checked.[3] Finally, even if Hillary were to win any single one of the three states, she still would not have enough electoral votes to win. The most likely explanation for both Trump’s victories in these states and the energy behind Stein’s recount campaign is the shock that all voters felt as the polls came significantly and consistently short in predicting Trump’s vote share.


Final Thoughts  

We thought that a Thursday Washington Post piece titled “Why are people giving Jill Stein millions of dollars for an election recount?” gave two interesting thoughts on the recount story. The first thought was (and don’t be bitter, but this is a little ironic): Jill Stein received more votes in both Michigan and Wisconsin than Trump’s margin of victory.[4] In a campaign where the constructive role of third parties was heavily scrutinized, it’s interesting to think about what Stein’s motives for spearheading this recount are, and what role she will have in our memory of the factors shaping this election’s outcome. The second thought was that if the recount campaign is nothing more than a manifestation of liberal anger, that energy might be better spent supporting the election of populist Democrat Foster Campbell in Louisiana’s December 10th runoff Senate election.



[2] http://elections.wi.gov/node/4436





[1] http://content.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1864165,00.html

[1] http://content.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1864165,00.html

[1] http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/white-house-hackers-election-recount-231849


[3] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/recounts-rarely-reverse-election-results/


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