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How a Michigan election recount will work

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein plans to file a petition Wednesday seeking a statewide hand recount of all 4.8 million ballots cast in the Nov. 8 general election.

Barring a court challenge, state election officials indicated Monday that they will prepare to commence a recount by week’s end. Here is how the recount process will work:

Q. Why does Stein want a recount?

A. Republican Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Approximately 84,290 ballots were cast in the election without votes in the presidential contest, prompting Stein to question whether Michigan’s optical-scanning vote tabulating machines may have missed faintly marked ballots.

Past recounts for local elections have revealed missed votes, but the results are usually negligible and don’t change the outcome of the election.

“There are tabulator problems — votes missed,” said Mark Brewer, a Southfield attorney handling Stein’s Michigan recount.

Stein’s campaign also wants to ensure the election wasn’t rigged, although her attorney admits they have no evidence to support fears of widespread voter fraud.

The Stein campaign plans to submit an affidavit from University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman on how he believes Michigan’s voting machines could be infected with undetectable malware, despite not being connected to the internet.

“We have no proof of that. ... There’s a possibility of fraud, there’s a possibility of manipulation,” Brewer told reporters Monday. “The only way to eliminate that is to do a manual recount.”

Q. How can Stein request a recount?

A. Although Stein finished fourth in Michigan’s presidential contest with 51,463 votes, any losing candidate on the ballot can request a recount under state law.

It doesn’t matter how large the margin of votes to overcome — in this case, Stein trails Republican President-elect Donald Trump by 2,228,080 votes.

Stein has until 2 p.m. Wednesday to submit her request, 48 hours after the Board of State Canvassers certified Trump’s victory on Monday.

Q. What will it cost?

A. Stein will be required to pay a recount fee of $125 for each of Michigan’s 6,300 precincts, amounting to $790,000.

State Elections Director Chris Thomas said Monday the cost will likely exceed $900,000 and individual counties will have to pay for the additional cost.

Q. When will the recount start?

A. The Board of State Canvassers has authorized the state Bureau of Elections to start a recount on Friday or Saturday in the state’s 19 largest counties.

County canvassing boards will work every day, including Sundays, to recount the vote by hand until the Dec. 13 deadline, Thomas said.

Q. Can Trump contest the recount?

A. Yes. Trump’s attorneys indicated Monday that they will object to a hand recount of all 4.8 million ballots. They instead proposed a machine recount.

Under the recount law, the Board of State Canvassers has to hold a public hearing for Trump’s attorneys to contest the recount. A requested hearing would halt the recount, Thomas said.

The four-member panel comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats could reject and stop the recount. But the board is known to deadlock on deeply partisan issues.

If the board were to tie on ending the recount, the recounting of votes by hand would resume two business days later, Thomas said.

Q. If Clinton prevailed in the recount, would it change the outcome of the election?

A. Probably not. Trump won 306 electoral votes, including Michigan’s 16 votes, and needed 270 to win the White House.

If Michigan’s result were overturned in Clinton’s favor, Trump would still have 290 electoral votes.

Trump’s victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would have to be overturned for Clinton to win the Electoral College.

Stein’s recount efforts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania face even larger margins to overturn Trump’s victories. Trump won Wisconsin by 22,177 votes and carried Pennsylvania by a margin of 70,779 votes.