The presidential recount launched by Green Party candidate Jill Stein raises big questions: Did Russians hack U.S. voting machines? What happens to leftover money Stein raised for the recount? Can the recount change the election’s outcome?
“I think it’s going to be a bitch,” reporter and documentary filmmaker Greg Palast, who broke the recount story, told TheWrap. “But Michigan and Wisconsin are so close that if they do an honest review, you’re going to see a reversal.”
Other election watchers say that’s unlikely, but we’ll soon find out if Palast is right — the recount begins Friday.
One thing to know upfront: This isn’t an investigation into whether Russian hackers fixed the vote.
“There is really no evidence that Russians hacked this election,” Palast said. “But that doesn’t mean it was a fair election. It has nothing to do with the recount.”
Here are the five things Palast, whose new film is called “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” believes everyone should know about the recount.
1. There’s a nasty secret
According to Palast, “the nasty little secret” of the U.S. election is that many of the votes aren’t counted at all. Palast says that in a typical presidential election, millions of votes are rejected, invalidated, or spoiled.
“In many cases, people lose their vote for a meaningless technicality,” Palast said. He recalls a case in one county during the 2000 Florida recount when the ballots were poorly designed. “Instead of saying ‘write-in’ candidate, the ballot left out the hyphen. So it read: ‘Write in candidate’ and you had 200 people who punched in Al Gore on the ballot and then also wrote ‘Al Gore.’ That’s an over-vote,” he explained.
2. Over-votes are an issue
Palast says the Green Party’s team has already found “a whole lot” of Michiganders who voted for two or more candidates. He said Stein’s lawyers suspect many of these over-voters meant to vote for one candidate but that voting machines couldn’t read their ballot correctly. In Michigan and Wisconsin, voters need to fill in bubbles next to their preferred choice, but scanners sometimes misread them.
Stein wants a review that would look at every single one of the six million ballot cards by hand. Her lawyers say more than a thousand people have volunteered to help.
3. Provisional, mail-in, early and absentee ballots also factor in
Voters whose names are missing from a polling station’s list or who don’t have the required ID are given “provisional” ballots that are supposed to be counted once the voter’s information has been checked and approved.
But it’s up to partisan election officials to decide whether the vote will be counted. Palast said Hillary Clinton only won one swing state, Virginia, the only state where the vote count was controlled by Democrats. In all other swing states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida — Republicans set the rules for counting ballots.
There are many reasons ballots can be rejected. According to the government’s Election Assistance Committee 2012 survey, 425,310 (1.3 percent) of the domestic absentee ballots in that race were reported to have been returned as undeliverable, 266,642 (0.8 percent) were spoiled, and for 3,760,269 (11.4 percent) the status was uncertain.
The cause can be anything from wrong postage or “suspect signature.” Palast says a majority of early votes are Democratic and so that’s one of the first places to suppress votes.
4. Stein won’t get rich
Palast said Stein won’t get rich off her successful recount fundraising because the Federal Elections Commission “has very strict rules when it comes to these things.” Donations for the recount are put in a designated account and all spending is restricted to the recount.
Palast also says the cost of the recount is not up to Stein but up to the states, which will bill the campaign.
5. Pennsylvania is a problem
One big problem for Stein, Palast says, will be Pennsylvania, where 70 percent of voters used what are called “Push and Pray” voting machines — you push the screen for your choice and pray it gets recorded. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has yet to require some form of voter-verified paper audit trail.
Palast says the Pennsylvania recount will have to rely on access to the code, statistical comparisons to counties that did used paper ballots… and prayer.
“You can’t find everything,” Palast said. “And that’s the problem.”