US presidential election: What to know about recount of votes in US states

Voters cast their ballot in the national election at Cannon Pavilion on Nov 8, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Voters cast their ballot in the national election at Cannon Pavilion on Nov 8, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Wisconsin will begin a recount of votes on Thursday (Dec 1) after Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein legally challenged the vote results in the US state.

She has also filed for a recount in Pennsylvania and is expected to do the same in Michigan.

The issue has become a red rag, however, for President-elect Donald Trump, who has called the recounts "ridiculous'' and a ''scam'' for Dr Stein to make money.

Some Republicans believe she is fronting for Mrs Hillary Clinton, whose team announced that it would observe the recount.

Here's what you should know about the recount:

 Why is there a recount in Wisconsin?

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Mr Trump won the state with 1,404,000 votes and Mrs Clinton came in second with 1,381,823 votes - a difference of 22,177 votes. Dr Stein won 31,006 votes and another third-party candidate, Roque De La Fuente, won just 1,514 votes.

A group of experts who spoke with the Clinton team said a statistical analysis suggested Mrs Clinton may have been denied up to 30,000 votes, and argued that their doubts warranted a review. Suspicion centred in particular on electronic voting machines used in some counties of the state.

"This is being done because Americans have come out of this election not happy campers, 80 per cent of Americans according to the New York Times poll felt disgusted by this election,'' Dr Stein told ABC. "A lot of people were voting out of fear and the question was which one (of the two candidates) do you trust less.''

"I think Americans are looking for a way that we can improve the system. It's not just an academic question but it's a question of our jobs, of the healthcare we can't afford, of a generation locked in debt. It's very up close and personal.''


How does the recount process work?

In Wisconsin, close to three million ballots will be counted by hand; an initial plan to count some by hand and the rest through a tabulation of electronic voting machines was countered by Dr Stein who filed a lawsuit forcing a hand recount. Election officials will probably have to work day and night to get this done.

Wisconsin state election officials told the media they did not expect to find a different result but "this will give us a very good audit and reassure Wisconsin voters that we have a fair system, that the election was fair and accurate".

When will we know the result?

A published memo from Wisconsin Elections Commission Interim Administrator Michael Hass says the recount will begin on Dec 1 and must be finished by Dec 13.

Mr Hass wrote: "Under federal law, there is a 'safe harbor' provision which requires any election dispute involving a presidential election to be settled within 35 days of Election Day, which is Dec 13, 2016, in this case.''

How will it affect the election result?

Although the margins in the three states - especially in Wisconsin and Michigan - were close, even Dr Stein says a change in the outcome of the election is unlikely. She maintains that she is petitioning for the recounts because American voters have a right to know their votes have been fairly counted.

"I don't think (a change in the result is) likely and this is not being done to benefit one candidate at the expense of the other,'' Dr Stein told ABC.

On Sunday, Mr Trump tweeted: "So much time and money will be spent - same result! Sad.''

Mr Mark Thomsen, chair of Wisconsin's Elections Commission, said at a news conference on Monday (Nov 28): "I fully expect, given the history of how elections are conducted in Wisconsin... that the outcome is not going to be different."

What are the other recounts in US history?

  • In 2011 in Wisconsin, a recount after a close race for a state Supreme Court seat saw the first result reversed, but the vote margin was only in hundreds.
  • In 2008 in Minnesota, a machine count had declared Republican Norm Coleman the winner of a Senate seat, but after an eight-month court battle, a recount by hand showed the Democratic Party's Al Franken was the actual winner.  
  • In 2004 in Washington, the close race for governor saw the Democratic Party paying US$730,000 for a recount, which awarded the election to the party's candidate Christine Gregoire, who had lost in the original count. Her winning margin was 133 out of 2.8 million votes cast.
  • In the 2000 presidential election, the Democratic Party's candidate Al Gore, who like Mrs Clinton won the popular vote, lost in the Electoral College to Mr George W. Bush. The latter won the election-night vote count in Florida by 1,784 votes. The small margin triggered an automatic recount under state law. Court battles ensued, with arguments over machine counting, hand counting, and absentee votes. Eventually the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 to pass an order that in effect upheld the original result. The controversy delayed the transition from Mr Bill Clinton to Mr Bush by six weeks.