Election Recounts in Key Battleground States Will Reveal Deep Flaws in U.S. Electoral Machinery

Posted Nov. 30, 2016

MP3 Interview with Steven Rosenfeld, journalist with AlterNet.org and author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting," conducted by Scott Harris


Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has captured national attention in this anxious post-election period by calling for recounts in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Despite Stein’s own view that the recounts won’t likely change the election outcome, the two-time Green Party standard bearer says she’s launched the recount drive to draw attention to serious questions that have emerged about the integrity of the nation’s voting system after allegations that Russia had hacked Democratic Party emails, and concern about the security of older electronic voting machines. While Donald Trump won the election based on the archaic Electoral College vote allocation, he lost the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots. Although Hillary Clinton had not requested a recount, her campaign decided to take part in the effort to "ensure that it is fair to all sides."

Thus far, the Green Party has raised more than $6 million that will help pay for recounts in the three states. The Wisconsin Elections Commission agreed to begin a recount of the presidential election on Dec. 1, but was sued by Stein after the agency declined to require county officials to recount the votes by hand. Stein has also filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania to force a recount there and plans to formally request a recount in Michigan on Nov. 30. If a state begins the process of an official recount and doesn’t complete it by the federal deadline of Dec. 13, they run the risk of not having their electoral votes count.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Steven Rosenfeld, who covers national political issues for AlterNet. Here, he assesses the rationale behind the election recounts, and the question of legitimacy looming over the 2016 presidential election results. [Rush transcript.]

STEVEN ROSENFELD: The Greens are really committed to this notion of verifying the vote and they believe that by casting the spotlight on the different voting systems and the procedures. They're not the same and they get sort of stuck in the different "silos and in the weeds" a little bit in these three different states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – that they're really going to show people how rickety the voting system is, how unreliable the counting is, how imprecise it is, how hard it is to actually walk away with confidence. Now, some states will be better than others and this is the way it is across the country, some states are better than others.

So, they're doing it for that reason, and you know, nobody knows what's going to happen. It may very well be that they will – it's only 11,000 votes in Michigan – that they might change results there. But you know this is like changing or winning three Floridas. You have to win all three to reverse a presidential election. So that's what's so very unlikely.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Steve, in doing these vote recounts, what is going to be the focus? Looking for electronic voting machine flaws in the vote count – accidental or deliberate – and/or hacking of the vote by political operatives inside the the U.S.? Or, as has been suggested by some, the vote being skewed by outside operatives like the nation of Russia?

STEVEN ROSENFELD: The purpose the recount is to verify the vote. Now you have different ways that people vote in different states, and it's not just voting by mail. Or voting in polling places. There's different kinds of machinery in polling places. In some places, you take a pen and you mark a paper ballot and the paper ballot gets scanned. In Michigan, for example, there was something like 80,000 to 90,000 ballots that were scanned that didn't register a presidential vote. There were only 11,000 votes separating Clinton and Trump. The Michigan state election officials were very defensive about that. They say nothing is wrong, but you know, this becomes an example of many examples of well, let's take a look. Why does it hurt? You know, verify it, don't take anybody's word.

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Then in other states, you have other aspects of the voting systems that raise different questions. So, in Wisconsin, for example, people noticed that in the counties that primarily used the paperless machines, Donald Trump's margin of victory was between 10 and 15 percent, the largest in the state, and in the counties that relied mostly on paper ballots, Hillary Clinton won. They also see in some of these counties where there was supposedly this great rural resurgence of non-college graduate white voters, that the turnout was 85, 90 percent. You know they want to go into these towns where there are several hundred people, and if they can find a dozen or two people who said, I'm not going to vote, I'm not going vote, I don't care, those people do nothing for me, then all of a sudden it looks like the turnout numbers are not right. And you move to the next set of questions, which is, "Well, what happened? Did an electronic machine not run right? Did somebody tinker with the results?" And that's when you get this whole arc of conspiracy theories.

What you have here is a series of dots that is going to be very hard to connect.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You've written a book about counting the votes. From your perspective, what do we have to do to clean up the mess of both the machinery of elections in the United States, as well as the hodgepodge of different laws state by state, many of which since the demise of the Voting Rights Act – courtesy of the Supreme Court – we've seen a lot of voter suppression laws go into place in Republican-controlled states. What's the essential job here from this date forward where we have to repair our electoral system?

STEVEN ROSENFELD: Well, the essential job is to simplify the process of making voter registration easier and almost universal. Some states are actually doing that. The barriers to entry – whether it's registration or getting a ballot at a polling place – they should just be lowered. And in many places, they're not lowered. And that's when all the voter registration, voter suppression, all that sort of partisan tinkering with the rules comes from. And on the vote counting side, as old-fashioned as it sounds, you really need to use paper ballots so that there can be recounts. Anything else leaves you with the guessing game that we're going to be reading about in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Find all of Steven Rosenfeld's recent AlterNet articles on election 2016 at alternet.org/authors/steven-rosenfeld.

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