GOP fights Mich. recount with federal appeal

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Recount workers in Oakland County began hand counting ballots around noon Monday.

Lansing — The Michigan Republican Party on Monday sought to stop the state’s presidential recount just hours after it began, appealing a federal court order granting a request by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“We do not believe the federal courts have jurisdiction over state’s being able to run their own election process,” party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told The Detroit News.

Party attorneys filed a notice of appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday afternoon and were preparing to make the case for “abstention,” arguing U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith should not have intervened by ordering the recount to start with legal challenges pending before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Those challenges would have prevented officials from beginning the recount until at least Wednesday.

“There’s absolutely no reason Jill Stein should be granted a recount in our state that’s going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and the courts should have been able to make that determination before the federal courts intervened,” Romney McDaniel said.

Recount workers in Ingham and Oakland counties began hand counting ballots around noon Monday, less than 12 hours after Goldsmith ruled that delaying the process could stop the state from finalizing its vote total by a Dec. 13 deadline, jeopardizing Michigan’s role in the presidential election.

Six additional counties, including Wayne and Macomb, were expected to begin recounts Tuesday with others following suit later this week and early next, according to a schedule released by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The Michigan Republican Party “really has no basis to file an appeal,” said Stein attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “The judge wrote a very strong opinion, but we’ll respond when they make their arguments.”

Republican President-elect Donald Trump won Michigan’s Nov. 8 election, topping Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes, according to results certified last week by the Board of State Canvassers. Stein finished a distant fourth, receiving roughly 1 percent of the vote.

Stein requested recounts in Michigan and two other states as part of what her campaign is calling “an election integrity movement,” but she has acknowledged the effort is unlikely to change the outcome of the presidential election.

Stein celebrated Goldsmith’s order Monday in a press conference outside Trump Tower in New York, saying the judge affirmed the importance of “election fairness and accuracy, and that these things are the bedrock of our democracy.”

Stein has justified her recount request by questioning the unusually large number of “undervotes” in Michigan, where certified results show 75,000 voters who cast a ballot on Nov. 8 did not pick a presidential candidate.

That “raises the possibility that communities of color have been disenfranchised by an erroneous counting of the vote,” she said.

Trump sued Michigan on Friday in an attempt to stop the recount, and the state Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments from his attorneys and state Attorney General Bill Schuette during a Tuesday afternoon hearing in Lansing.

“Michigan law needs to govern, not some federal takeover,” Schuette said Monday on Fox News.

State courts cannot supersede Goldsmith’s order that prompted the recount to start, according to Wayne State University law professor and legal scholar Robert Sedler, but there is a possibility state judges could invalidate the recount if they determine Stein was not an “aggrieved party” with grounds for the recount request.

But the abstention claims at the heart of the Michigan Republican Party’s federal appeal are “not very strong” because counting votes is a fundamental right that Goldsmith said could be jeopardized.

“The worst that can happen to the state is that it spends the money and the recount doesn’t count anyway,” Sedler said. “Under the precedents, as I understand them, this would not be an appropriate case for the court to abstain.”

Stein’s attorneys last week paid $973,250 to cover her legally required fees to seek a recount of Michigan’s 6,300 precincts. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has said the recount cost could a total of $5 million, leaving the state and county governments on the hook for the remaining $4 million.

Romney McDaniel said courts should reject the recount request to “set a precedent in this state that we are no longer going to let our taxpayers be abused.” The GOP appeal is also expected to argue that Stein waited to file her recount until the last minute and therefore could not seek court intervention.

The Nov. 8 election “was administered fairly and legally,” Romney McDaniel said. “Every voter in Michigan should have confidence that their vote was counted. It was certified, and Jill Stein is trying to introduce chaos into our election process.”

The state House Elections Committee on Tuesday is set to take up newly introduced legislation that seeks to retroactively require Stein to cover all recount costs. The bill would require any candidate that received less than 5 percent of the vote in any election to pay for full estimated costs.

Stein’s recount petition claimed she was “aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake,” but offered no specific evidence of how she was harmed by Trump's 10,704-vote victory over Clinton.

Brewer said he was not surprised by the Michigan GOP appeal.

“Schuette and Trump all along have been trying to block this and cause confusion,” Brewer said. “They’re continuing to do so.”

Staff writers Robert Snell and Chad Livengood contributed.