Michigan's elections director Chris Thomas explains how a statewide recount of Michigan's presidential results could go on until Dec. 17. Chad Livengood, The Detroit News
Lansing — A statewide hand recount of 4.8 million ballots cast in Michigan’s presidential election may start by Wednesday — barring court intervention — and elections officials could have more time to complete the massive undertaking than they previously thought.
The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked Friday 2-2 along party lines on a request by Republican President-elect Donald Trump to reject Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s petition for a recount of the election results. Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes in Michigan.
Late Friday, Trump’s attorneys filed a lawsuit on his behalf in the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking to stop the recount. Their maneuver came after Attorney General Bill Schuette sought intervention earlier in the day from the Michigan Supreme Court, asking the high court to stop Stein’s recount in its tracks.
Barring a block by state courts, the recount could be underway by Wednesday morning because state law requires two business days to lapse after the board heard Trump’s objection, State Elections Director Chris Thomas said.
Election officials previously thought federal law required them to finish the recount by Dec. 13, raising doubts about whether the feat could be accomplished in less than a week.
But Thomas said Michigan can move forward with plans to have its 16 Trump electors cast their votes in the Electoral College on Dec. 19 as long as the recount is done by Dec. 17.
“They’ll show up on the 19th in the state Senate chambers, and they’ll vote,” Thomas said. “They’re our electors and have been elected and certified — and will vote.”
The extra four days may give municipal clerks some breathing room to pull off the recount, the first such recounting of a statewide candidate election in Michigan since 1950.
After a motion to block the recount failed, the elections panel of two Republicans and two Democrats also tied on a motion by Republican canvasser Norm Shinkle to conduct the recount with vote-tabulating machines.
“I believe we are now having a recount and it will be done by paper ballot,” Democratic canvasser Julie Matuzak said.
The canvassers also deadlocked along party lines on a motion from Shinkle to stop the recount when recounting shows the margin of Trump’s votes would make it “impossible” for Stein to prevail.
Stein has said she’s not seeking the recount to overturn the result. The Massachusetts physician said the recount is necessary to ensure there was no manipulation or tampering of voting machines.
“I would remind everybody that the original source of the claim that this election was rigged was Mr. Trump,” said Mark Brewer, a Southfield attorney representing Stein.
Fight over presidential non-votes
Stein and her attorneys have argued that the more than 75,000 people who didn’t vote for president but voted in other races may have been the result of optical scanning machines missing faintly marked presidential votes.
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.
Trump attorney Gary Gordon argued the spike in the non-votes was fairly minor among the 4.8 million votes cast. The blank votes this year totaled 1.73 percent of all ballots compared with 1.04 percent of all ballots case in 2012, he said.
Gordon also argued some non-votes could have actually been write-in votes for former Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, whose votes wouldn’t have been counted because he wasn’t a state-registered write-in candidate.
“People may have written in for President Sanders, or candidate Sanders ... so that vote may not have been counted,” he said.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who has no control over the gubernatorial appointees on the Board of State Canvassers, asked the panel in a letter Friday to consider conducting the recount with the machines instead of by hand.
“This would greatly reduce the opportunity for human error, and also reduce the amount of local resources that will be necessary to complete this process,” Johnson wrote in the letter.
Washtenaw County Clerk/Register of Deeds Lawrence Kestenbaum testified against a machine recount, arguing it could be more cumbersome for workers who are trained in hand recounts.
Kestenbaum said there’s also logistical considerations. Oakland County, for example, would need a facility with 75 electrical outlets to plug all of its machines into, he said.
“It’s not necessarily a faster process,” Kestenbaum said.
Thomas said other clerks around the state were opposed to a machine recount, contending it could create other obstacles.
“The challengers will demand to see the ballots one by one,” he said.
Schuette’s suit disrupts hearing
The state election board’s inaction Friday after a three-hour-long meeting followed Schuette’s actions to stop Stein’s recount in its tracks.
Schuette asked the Michigan Supreme Court for an emergency hearing Tuesday in an effort to block the recount from going forward.
“This court cannot allow a dilatory and frivolous request for a recount by an unaggrieved party to silence all Michigan votes for president,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Matthew Schneider wrote in a court filing on Schuette’s behalf.
Stein struck back at Schuette by calling the Republican attorney general’s legal action a partisan move.
“This is a politically motivated attempt by Bill Schuette to side with Donald Trump in opposition to a fair and accountable voting system,” she said in a Friday statement. “Citizens in Michigan and across the country of every political party have expressed their concerns around our voting system and deserve to have their votes counted.”
Brewer, a former Michigan Democrat Party chairman, called Schuette’s lawsuit an “unprecedented partisan intervention in a process that for decades has run very smoothly under the Board of Canvassers and the state Bureau of Elections.”
If the Supreme Court allows the recount to proceed, Schuette requested that the justices stipulate it can only be conducted using electronic ballot-tabulating machines until the votes for Trump and Clinton exceed Stein’s ability to win.
“This court should further order that if, at any point in the recount process, the number of votes that Stein requires to win Michigan’s electoral votes exceeds the number of ballots left to be counted, the recount must end immediately,” Schneider wrote.
Stein also is pursuing presidential recounts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
A federal court in Wisconsin on Friday rejected an attempt by pro-Trump groups to stop a recount there, saying no harm exists by letting it continue.
Trump and the Pennsylvania Republican Party asked a court Friday to dismiss a Green Party-backed request for a recount.
An updated count Friday by Pennsylvania election officials showed Trump's lead has dwindled to 49,000 from 71,000 as counties finish tallying overseas ballots and settling provisional ballot challenges. The lead of 0.8 percentage points out of 6 million votes is shy of the state’s 0.5 percent trigger for an automatic statewide recount.
Associated Press contributed.