State officials gear up for Michigan recount effort

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan election officials braced Monday for a statewide presidential hand recount as advocates called it essential to ensuring the integrity of voting systems and critics blasted it as an unnecessary and nearly impossible task to finish quickly.

Former Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer has been hired by Green Party candidate Jill Stein for the recount.

The Board of State Canvassers on Monday certified Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s 10,704-vote victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Michigan, starting a 48-hour clock for Green Party candidate Jill Stein to request a recount of 4.8 million votes.

Stein is planning to petition for a recount by Wednesday’s deadline, said her new attorney, Mark Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

State Elections Director Chris Thomas said he wants to commence the recount as soon as Friday because a Dec. 13 federal deadline looms for final certification of Michigan’s votes.

How a Michigan election recount will work

“The expectations that have been outlined to have this done by Dec. 13 are impossible or incredibly unlikely to be successful,” said John Pirich, a Lansing-based election law attorney representing Trump.

Brewer said Stein is seeking to ensure all votes were counted and that the state’s ballot-tabulating machines aren’t susceptible to human manipulation.

“The purposes of this manual recount are to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the election,” he told the Board of State Canvassers. “Every vote must be counted.”

Libertarian Gary Johnson finished with 172,136 votes or 3.6 percent of the vote, while Stein received 51,463 votes or 1.1 percent.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel ripped Stein for pursuing the recount and called on Clinton to renounce it.

“Michigan voters are being disenfranchised, and this recount should not happen,” McDaniel said. “... Hillary Clinton should call off the recount. She should ask Jill Stein to abide by the results that were certified today.”

Clinton’s campaign attorney has said they will participate in recounts Stein is initiating in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Thomas said his office plans to start the recount Friday and Saturday in the state’s 19 largest counties.

“... We are prepared to move forward at this time if we receive any type of recount petition by Wednesday afternoon of this week,” he said.

Thomas said county canvassing boards will need to work all weekend and all next week to meet the Dec. 13 deadline. The presidential electors meet Dec. 19 to cast official votes for Trump’s Electoral College victory, and federal law requires a “safe harbor” period between the meeting and the certification of election results in each state, he said.

The four-member state elections board passed a resolution authorizing Thomas’ department to conduct the recount, should it be requested.

Democratic party canvasser Julie Matuzak expresses her trust in the state’s election system as members of the Michigan Board of Canvassers meet Monday to certify the presidential election and to hear arguments against conducting a recount.

‘Odd’ to seek recount

Thomas said it’s “odd to say the least” that Stein would seek a recount given that she finished fourth in Michigan. But as a losing candidate, she has the right to seek a recount.

Under the recount law, Stein will have to pay $790,000 for a statewide recount at a cost of $125 for each of Michigan’s 6,300 precincts.

Thomas said he estimates the recount’s cost will exceed $900,000, the rest of which will be borne by individual counties.

“We’re going to file the required fee to do this, but if you think about it, democracy is priceless,” said Brewer, who ran the state Democratic Party from 1995 to 2013. “The integrity of our elections is priceless. And if one vote is not counted properly, that should be taken care of and fixed — and that’s what this process is all about in the end.”

Under state law, Trump would have seven days to file an objection in writing with the board, which would then hold a public hearing and halt the recount, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

“That is an avenue, and the state board would determine the objection,” Woodhams said.

But the four-member panel composed of two Republicans and two Democrats is known to deadlock on deeply partisan issues. If the board were to tie on whether to end the recount, the process of recounting votes by hand would continue two business days later, Thomas said.

Thomas said any delays in court or at the board level could make it difficult to finish the recount by Dec. 13.

“If we’re not done by the 13th, I think the recount is off by that point,” Thomas told reporters.

Lawyers hired

Trump hired Lansing election law attorneys Gary Gordon and Pirich to represent him in Stein’s recount. Both predicted the recount could not be pulled off in less than two weeks.

A 2005 recount of the Detroit mayoral election between Kwame Kilpatrick and Freman Hendrix took a month, Gordon noted. Other Detroit mayoral recounts involving Dave Bing and Mike Duggan each took about three weeks, said Pirich, who was involved in both.

“The reality is it’s a herculean effort that has to be put into this, and I think the timetable is not achievable,” Pirich said.

Gordon called for the recount to be done by voting tabulation machines.

Julie Matuzak, a Democratic member of Board of State Canvassers, cited Trump’s pre-victory rhetoric about the election being rigged as a reason to conduct the recount.

“I don’t think there’s any choice but to hand count these ballots,” Matuzak said.

She argued that a statewide hand recount would “restore confidence in our electoral system.”

“I don’t think we’re going to find anything wrong,” Matuzak said.

Since more than 80,000 voters participated in the Nov. 8 election without recording a vote for president, Brewer told the canvassers the only way to ensure there wasn’t really a presidential vote by each of them is to hand count them.

“This is about the integrity of the vote, no matter where it is,” Brewer told reporters. “A vote in the Upper Peninsula is just as important as a vote in southeast Michigan.”

Brewer said Stein’s recount petition will include exhibits from computer science experts on how Michigan’s voting records could be compromised.

Blank votes spur request

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Trump called the Green Party’s recount effort a “scam” effort to make money by asking for “impossible recounts.”

Trump spokesman Jason Miller referred Monday to the recount as “nonsense,” noting that Clinton conceded to Trump and chastising reporters for “chasing the shiny object.”

“I really do think it’s ridiculous that so much oxygen has been given to the recount effort when there’s absolutely no chance of any election results changing. This election’s been decided,” Miller told reporters on a call.

Stein has suggested Michigan had a “sky-high number of blank votes,” which is why she plans to pursue a recount of the Nov. 8 results.

Approximately 84,290 ballots were cast in the election without votes in the presidential contest.

Rick Lass, director of recounts for Jill Stein’s campaign, said the recount would show whether any of those ballots contain faintly marked ballots that were missed by Michigan’s optical-scanning machines.

“Michigan does not have an audit of the machines, so a hand recount of all of the paper ballots is the only way to make sure the machines are counting properly,” Lass told The Detroit News.

Lass said the Stein campaign won’t accept a less onerous recount of the vote using the tabulating machines.

“That’s the whole reason we have paper ballots,” he said.

Wisconsin officials have already greenlighted a recount and the Stein campaign is trying to jump-start a recount in Pennsylvania, which has a complicated voter-initiated recount law.

As of Monday afternoon, Stein had raised $6.32 million toward a $7 million goal to fund the three-state recount efforts, according to her campaign website.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed

How 3 states compare

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein wants recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Here are the margins of victory by Republican President-elect Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton:

Michigan: 10,704 votes

Wisconsin: 22,177 votes

Pennsylvania: 70,779 votes

Sources: Michigan and Pennsylvania secretary of state’s offices; Associated Press