Michigan election recount underway amid court battles

Chad Livengood, Jonathan Oosting and Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News

An unprecedented and hasty recount of Michigan’s presidential election results kicked off Monday under order from a federal judge as Republicans sought to fight Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s electoral autopsy in multiple courts.

Election workers in Ingham and Oakland counties began the recount mid-day Monday, about 12 hours after U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith issued a middle-of-the-night ruling for state election officials to start the recount and “continue until further order of this court.”

Milford Township Clerk Holly Brandt, left, and Deputy Clerk Pamela Przybyla recount ballots from Southfield to begin Michigan’s official recount on Monday in Oakland County.

The recount of President-elect Donald Trump’s narrow 10,704-vote victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton is the first of its size and scope since a recount of a close 1950 gubernatorial race that was never finished.

“We’ve never had to do anything of this magnitude before,” said Joe Rozell, elections director for Oakland County. “But nobody who was involved then is around now. This hasn’t happened in modern times.”

Attorneys for the Michigan Republican Party, acting on Trump’s behalf, made an emergency appeal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals about 15 hours after Goldsmith ordered state election officials to start the recount.

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

The federal appeal threatens to throw into chaos recounts scheduled to expand to Kalamazoo, Kent, Macomb, Ottawa, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The Michigan Court of Appeals scheduled a 4 p.m. hearing Tuesday in Lansing to consider lawsuits brought by Trump and Attorney General Bill Schuette seeking to stop the recount in its tracks. They contend Stein didn’t have legal standing to get a recount before the federal judge got involved.

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

Stein, who finished fourth in Michigan, has said she pursued the recount to see whether Michigan’s vote-tabulating machines are working properly. She also has raised the specter of the machines being tampered with but has provided no evidence to back up such claims.

Republicans continued to dispute there’s any reason to recount the 4.8 million votes cast Nov. 8.

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

On Sunday, Goldsmith held a rare weekend hearing on the issue and ruled in Stein’s favor, citing the short time period to conduct the hand recount before a Dec. 13 deadline.

‘This is not a race’

As attorneys for Trump and the GOP continued to battle the recount, the real time-consuming and tedious work got underway just after noon Monday.

Ingham County has more than 130,000 ballots to recount and plans to have 30 teams of two workers — one Republican, one Democrat — recounting ballots daily from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. until the process is complete, Clerk Barb Byrum said.

“This is a huge undertaking,” Byrum said before the recount began.

Ingham County is holding its recount inside the arena barn of the Ingham County Fairgrounds, where ballots secured inside suitcases are stacked on pallets and will be guarded at night by a sheriff’s deputy.

Oakland County, meanwhile, has assembled 150 workers to recount nearly 700,000 ballots at the Oakland Intermediate School District building in Waterford Township.

“We don’t want a fast pace,” said Tom Luitje, election specialist with the state Bureau of Elections. “This is not a race. We’re out to get this done as accurately as we possibly can.”

The Secretary of State’s Office developed a schedule to stagger the recounts of smaller counties throughout the week.

State and local election officials have been preparing for the recount for the past week, lining up large events centers and hiring staff to work 11-hour daily shifts for a marathon examination of the election results.

Macomb County chief elections clerk Roger Cardamone said the state told his office to begin Tuesday morning. Workers are expected to gather at the Macomb Community College Sports and Expo Center at 8:30 a.m.

“We were prepared for there to be some uncertainty,” said Cardamone, “so we’re just rolling with that, and we’ll continue to do whatever the courts tell us to do.”

At Cobo Center Monday afternoon, officials from across Wayne County delivered metal boxes and canvas bags containing ballots to one of three conference rooms that will be used for the recount, set to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Jina Sawani, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Clerk’s office, said they’ve hired 125 temporary workers to count 802,195 ballots. City and township clerks will volunteer time as they are available, she said. There will two challengers at each table during the recount.

“I don’t think it’s going to be chaotic, but it’s an active process,” Sawani said.

Accuracy over speed

After the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 Friday on party lines over Trump’s request to stop the recount, state officials moved forward plans to start it Wednesday to comply with a state law setting a two-business-day waiting period.

But Goldsmith ruled the waiting period had the effect of harming voting rights in Michigan, so he ordered the recount to commence immediately.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday encouraged election officials to conduct the recount “promptly.”

“The Electoral College needs to meet in a couple of weeks, and, hopefully, it can get done in a timely fashion. I don’t expect it (the recount) to change the outcome, but let’s go through the process,” Snyder said at an event in Dearborn.

The Republican governor noted there’s been no evidence of fraud or tampering with election machines.

“The issue is, we haven’t seen any issues or problems because I want to remind people this isn’t because they found particular problems,” Snyder said. “This is just the way our process works.”

Byrum wants to complete the full Ingham County recount within six days to keep the costs under control. She initially calculated that the cost of the recount would be nearly triple Stein’s $125 per precinct recount fee, which topped $973,000.

“That’s a lofty goal, but I’m hopeful we are able to complete it within the week,” Byrum said.

Oakland County Clerk and Register of Deeds Lisa Brown said the true cost of the recount isn’t known. “If we’re fast, it will cost us less. But we’re not looking to be fast, we’re looking to be accurate,” she said.

Staff writers Christine Ferretti, Robert Snell and Candice Williams contributed.