Jessica Clarke, attorney for Jill Stein, and University of Michigan cyber security expert J. Alex Halderman explain the Green Party candidate's request for a hand recount of 4.8 million paper ballots cast in the Nov. 8 election. Chad Livengood, The Detroit News
Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s quest to recount Michigan’s 4.8 million ballots in an unprecedented autopsy of a presidential election could cost taxpayers more than $4 million.
Stein formally requested Wednesday a hand recount of the state’s presidential election, a labor-intensive undertaking that is expected to begin Friday morning and could result in marathon counting sessions until the Dec. 13 deadline.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump won by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton, getting 47.5 percent of the vote to the former secretary of state’s 47.27 percent. Stein received 51,463 votes, or about 1.1 percent.
The Green Party nominee’s attorneys left a $973,250 check at the state Bureau of Elections to cover her legally required fees for seeking a recount of 6,300 precincts.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Wednesday the recount cost could total $5 million, leaving the state and county governments on the hook for the remaining $4 million.
Johnson’s recount estimate is based on Wisconsin’s estimated $3.5 million cost for its recount, which, unlike Michigan, is being done largely by machine with 1.9 million fewer ballots.
Jessica Clarke, an attorney for the Massachusetts doctor, suggested Wednesday the Stein campaign may be willing to cover some additional costs. But she wouldn’t commit to the full sum.
“Right now, no one knows what the cost of the recount is going to be,” Clarke said. “Our intent is to do what we can to cover the cost of the recount.”
Stein’s recount petition claims the Nov. 8 election may have been compromised by “fraud or mistake” in the tabulation of ballots.
GOP: Recount ‘reckless’
Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel blasted the request as a “reckless attempt to undermine the will” of Michigan’s voters. She noted Stein and her lawyer, Mark Brewer, have provided no evidence of vote fraud.
“Jill Stein made her 1 percent temper tantrum official and will waste millions of Michigan taxpayers’ dollars, and has acknowledged that the recount will not change anything regarding the presidential election,” McDaniel said.
Cost estimates for the recount have varied wildly between Johnson’s estimate of up to $3 million to Michigan GOP attorney Eric Doster’s estimate of $12 million, the cost of a full statewide election.
Stein’s 11-page recall petition contained a half-page statement and signatures from 10 of her presidential electors.
“I and the undersigned members of my slate of electors, individually and collectively, are aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes by the inspectors of election, and/or the returns made by the inspectors, and/or by the Board of County Canvassers, and/or by the Board of State Canvassers,” Stein wrote in the petition.
After the petition was filed, Stein attorney and Green Party activist Lou Novak held a mid-afternoon press conference in Lansing with University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman, a cyber security expert who has raised questions about the vulnerability of Michigan’s voting machines to electronic manipulation.
The type of optical-scanning machines Michigan municipalities use have been hacked by research scientists in other states, leaving them vulnerable to criminal implanting software that could be used to manipulate election results, Halderman said.
“We know the machines are hackable,” he said.
Hackable voting machines?
Michigan election officials have insisted the machines are not hackable because they aren’t connected to the internet, and election results are transported on removable storage devices.
“It doesn’t matter whether the machines are attached to the internet, because the machines are programed before the election using removable media, just like the memory card in your phone or your camera,” Halderman said. “And in an attack, malware that could change the election return can hitch a ride on that removable media and affect the machines.”
Stein said Wednesday the more than 75,000 blank votes in Michigan’s presidential results were a “red flag” that fueled her desire to seek a statewide hand recount of 4.8 million ballots.
The 75,335 ballots cast without a vote in the presidential contest were twice as many blank votes as the 2008 election and a 61 percent increase from 2012.
“Michigan has this very high level of under votes, that is, blank ballots. This is quite an unusual number,” Stein said in a Wednesday interview on WDET radio’s “Detroit Today.”
The blank votes occurred in an election in which both Trump and Clinton had record unfavorable opinions in pre-election polls for The Detroit News. In Nov. 8 exit polling done for The News and broadcast television networks, 57 percent of Michigan voters surveyed had an unfavorable view of Clinton and 59 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, a Democrat, said she will be hiring up to 75 people to help with the “monumental” task of recounting 135,000 ballots cast in her county.
Byrum is planning to stage a recount operation at the Ingham County fairgrounds in Mason, starting Friday morning.
A ‘logistical hell’
“I get that this is some people’s Super Bowl,” Byrum said of the recount. “But this is my logistical hell.”
Barring a court challenge by Trump, the recount is expected to begin Friday.
The Board of State Canvassers has scheduled a Friday morning meeting to hear any objections to the recount — something Trump’s lawyers John Pirich and Gary Gordon are anticipated to make.
Stein’s recount hinges on whether Michigan’s optical-scanning vote tabulating machines may have missed faintly marked ballots, contributing to the sizable “under vote” of 75,335 blank votes in the presidential election.
“That may be a tip-off.” Stein said on WDET. “That could be a red flag that there’s been either machine error or, in some cases, tampering.”
Stein denied she was seeking recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin because Trump upset Clinton in the three states, which have been in the Democratic column for two decades.
“That’s not why they were picked,” Stein said. “They were picked because they had the markings of being at risk for tampering or human error or hacking or machine error.”
Stein also claimed Michigan’s voting machines could have been hacked, although she offered no evidence as to how that could have been achieved since the state’s machines are not connected to the internet.
Michigan Republicans, including Johnson, have raised concerns about the cost of the recount, which is not entirely known at this point. State law allows Johnson’s office to charge $973,250 for the recount at a cost of $125 per precinct recounted.
Stein downplayed the cost of the recount in the radio interview Wednesday morning, which aired before Johnson announced the new $4 million estimate.
“Most of that cost, if not all of it, should be handled by the fee,” Stein said. “And if some of it is not, you know, democracy is not free.”
One county’s recount tab
Municipalities will get paid $125 for every precinct recounted in the statewide retallying of the presidential votes. but the money might not go far.
In Ingham County, Clerk Barb Byrum estimates it will cost $7,530 per day to operate a recount. It involves $6,250 in total pay for 50 recount employees who will be paid $125 per day to work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Byrum also is budgeting for renting tables and chairs as well as $500 a day for food “because I’m going to have to feed these poor people.” She is getting one break: The Ingham County fairgrounds is letting her stage the recount in its main arena for free.
But she’ll also have to pay an Ingham County sheriff’s deputy $600 to guard the county’s 135,000 ballots each night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Ingham County’s 135 precincts will be reimbursed $16,875 from the $973,250 fee Green Party candidate Jill Stein had to pay on Wednesday to initiate the recount.
Byrum estimates it will take at least six days to recount Ingham County’s ballots — bringing the total cost to at least $45,180.
“This is just for my county,” she said.