Green Party files legal challenge to vote results in second US state Pennsylvania

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaking at a campaign rally in Chicago, Illinois, US, on Sept 8, 2016.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaking at a campaign rally in Chicago, Illinois, US, on Sept 8, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - President-elect Donald Trump is well into filling out his Cabinet and picking key advisers. But a move to challenge the vote tallies in three swing states - an extreme long-shot to reverse his Electoral College majority - is advancing in the background, creating a noisy distraction on Mr Trump's Twitter feed and raising last-ditch hopes of some Hillary Clinton supporters.

In Wisconsin, elections officials said on Monday (Nov 29) that a recount of the state's nearly three million votes would most likely begin on Thursday. In Pennsylvania, Dr Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate who initiated the recounts, filed a legal challenge of the results in state court. And the Stein campaign said it planned to request a recount in Michigan on Wednesday.

Neither Dr Stein nor the Clinton campaign has found evidence of election tampering in any of the three states, where Mr Trump beat Mrs Clinton by a combined margin of only about 100,000 votes. But once Dr Stein seized on the issue last week, the Clinton campaign said it, too, would join in the efforts to seek recounts.

Mrs Clinton has been urged by her supporters to challenge the results, but she has done so only in a passive way. A campaign lawyer said that her team would "participate" in a manner that ensured fairness, but that it had "not uncovered any actionable evidence" of hacking or other interference.

The Clinton campaign will pay to have its own lawyers present at recount sites, but it is not contributing money to the effort, campaign officials have said.

Dr Stein said she invited every candidate, including Mr Trump, to join her calls for recounts, but she is not seeking money or legal input from the remnants of the Clinton campaign.

 

Mr Trump's spokesman Jason Miller said in an e-mail that the "mere talk of a recount by someone who got less than 1% "- Stein - "is a joke."

 

The recount push irked Mr Trump, who said on Twitter that Democrats were joining what he called a "scam" by the Green Party to "fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts."

The president-elect also returned to the issue of voter fraud over the weekend, advancing the baseless charge that "millions" of people voted illegally.

He singled out California, Virginia and New Hampshire for "serious voter fraud" - prompting a rebuff from Mr Alex Padilla, the California secretary of state, who said on Twitter that Mr Trump's "reckless tweets are inappropriate and unbecoming of a president-elect."

Dr Stein, who finished a distant fourth place in the popular vote on Nov 8, as of Monday had raised about US$6.3 million (S$9 million) of a US$7 million goal to cover the costs of recounts in the three states.

To begin the recount in Wisconsin, the state must receive payment of US$3.5 million by Tuesday afternoon to cover the estimated costs, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said Monday.

The commission approved a schedule, which includes county clerks and canvass members being briefed on procedures on Wednesday morning, with the recount beginning Thursday and being completed by Dec 12 and certified on Dec 13. The Electoral College votes on Dec 19.

Dr Stein asked that the recount of ballots be done entirely by hand, but the elections commission rejected that request, instead allowing counties to determine whether they should be counted manually or using tabulating equipment. She said on Monday that she would sue to demand the hand count.

In all three states, the Stein campaign is seeking to answer the question of whether the vote was hacked, by introducing malicious software into voting machines. The possibility was raised by J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. Although no evidence of hacking exists, Dr Stein wants to compare paper records of votes with electronic tallies of voting machines, and to subject touch-screen machines (which don't leave a paper trail) to forensic analysis.

In Pennsylvania, the hurdles are much higher in terms of the number of votes necessary to reverse Mr Trump's victory, as well as the procedures for initiating a recount.

The state, where Mr Trump holds a lead of 70,638 votes or 1.1 percent, allows any three voters to petition to recount their local precinct. But despite a call from Dr Stein on Facebook on Sunday for thousands of Pennsylvanians to file the paperwork, in many cases the deadlines have come and gone, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

 

There are more than 9,000 voting precincts in Pennsylvania. Ms Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said she was aware of petitions in only a handful of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.

The Stein campaign said that as of Monday, voters had filed recount petitions in 120 precincts, including more than 70 in Philadelphia, where the county has not yet certified the vote and petitions can still be accepted, according to Ilann Maazel, a lawyer for the campaign.

In Michigan, a candidate can request a recount by citing fraud or errors, said Mr Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan secretary of state. But other candidates, like Trump, could potentially object to such a request by appealing to the Board of State Canvassers.

At a meeting on Monday, where the canvassers certified the election results, a representative for Stein said her campaign planned to request a complete hand recount by a deadline Wednesday. The campaign would need to pay estimated costs of $800,000, and a recount could start as early as Friday.

"People will be working well after 5 pm and on the weekends," Mr Woodhams said. "It will certainly be very challenging, and potentially, it could be expensive. The 800k will cover a lot of the work, but potentially not everything."