What’s wrong with counting the votes again?

December 1, 2016

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is trying to get election recounts in three states narrowly won by Donald Trump. Predictably, this produced a storm of controversy in mainstream politics, but there are also objections on the left. Phil Gasper, a regular contributor to Socialist Worker.org, the editor and annotator of a new edition of The Communist Manifesto and a socialist activist based in Madison, Wisconsin, answers questions about the recount effort.

WHAT'S GOING on with Jill Stein's push for recounts in several states?

THE PRESIDENTIAL election was decided by very close votes in three states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If fewer than 50,000 votes had gone the other way in these states, then Trump would not have won. The Clinton campaign showed no interest in challenging the vote--instead, Clinton conceded the election and urged her supporters to give Trump "a chance to lead."

But because Stein was on the ballot in all three states, she is in a position to request a recount. Last week she put out a call for people to make donations that would allow her to proceed.

Recounts are expensive. Where they aren't legally mandated, the candidate requesting them has to pay for them, although if the election result changes they would be refunded. Within a few days, however, Stein had raised several million dollars. As of Tuesday, the total was getting close to $7 million--more than twice the amount she raised for her own election campaign.

Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein
Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein

But as I said, the recounts are expensive. Wisconsin initially wanted $1.2 million to proceed, but then it increased the amount to $3.5 million. Stein has filed the relevant paperwork and paid the money and the recount will be starting soon.

One outstanding issue is whether the recount will be conducted by hand in every county. Stein is going to court to demand that it is. She's also filing for recounts in the other two states.

IS THERE any chance that the votes will be reversed in any of these places?

THAT IS extremely unlikely. Some people have raised the concern that voting machines might have been hacked or the process tampered with in some way, but there's no evidence that anything like that actually happened. The election was closest in Michigan, where Trump won by about 10,000 votes, but there's no precedent for a lead of that size to be overturned by a recount.

Stein herself has said that she doesn't expect the recounts to change the outcome of the election, but she thinks that voters deserve to know that every vote was properly counted.

The Greens demanded a recount in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. While that obviously didn't alter the result of George Bush being re-elected, it did uncover problems with the process and showed that Ohio didn't have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent vote tampering. And two county election officials were later convicted for attempting to rig the recount itself.

SOME PEOPLE on the left are criticizing Stein for going ahead with this, right?

YES, THERE have been a variety of criticisms on social media and elsewhere. Some have argued that it's a distraction from building opposition to Trump or a waste of money that could be better spent in other ways. Others think she is giving credence to wild conspiracy theories.

Another criticism is that she is compromising the Green Party's independence by giving tacit support to Clinton. And some Greens say that the decision to proceed with a recount wasn't made democratically.

I don't know much about the Green Party's internal decision-making process. There was very little time available to raise the money and meet the deadlines, so it's perhaps not surprising that the decision was made at the top.

In an interview with Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Stein argued that the recount effort was a "point of departure" that could allow "Greens to lead the way forward" on broader issues of election integrity such as voter suppression and ranked-choice voting.

Most of the other criticisms aren't very convincing. Far from being a distraction, it's actually focused attention on the fact that Trump--who, of course, lost the popular vote by over two million votes--doesn't have a mandate. Trump's absurd claim that he only received less votes because "millions of people voted illegally" shows that this is a sore spot.

The recounts will certainly cost a lot of money, but if Stein had put out an appeal for money to build anti-Trump protests, it's unlikely she would have raised one-10th of what has come in so far. A lot of money is undoubtedly coming from disgruntled Democrats who would not have contributed money to Stein for anything other than this.

The idea that the Greens' political independence is being compromised is a bit strange, given that it's the Clinton campaign that has had to be dragged into the recount.

As I noted above, Clinton herself wanted nothing to do with the recount initially. After Stein raised the money and did all the legwork, her campaign said they would participate--in other words send observers to make sure the recount is conducted fairly. And most recently they said they would support Stein's legal case for a hand recount in Wisconsin.

If Stein's motivation was to get Clinton elected, that certainly would compromise the Green Party's independence. But that's not why she's called for the recount. Her motivation is a simple democratic (with a small 'd') demand--namely that the voting process should be conducted fairly.

Of course, counting every vote that's cast isn't enough by itself to make our elections fair. There are numerous ways in which people are prevented or discouraged from voting in the first place. There's the incredibly undemocratic Electoral College. There's the vast amount of money that gives the wealthy and the two major political parties a vice-like grip on the whole process.

The recount obviously doesn't challenge any of that, but it does give Stein a platform to raise these other issues. If she does that effectively, I think it will help build opposition to Trump.

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