In a rush of last-minute legal maneuvers, the campaign of Green Party candidate Jill Stein moved Monday to force recounts in dozens of Pennsylvania voting precincts as it filed an unprecedented formal contest of the state’s presidential vote.
“It’s the bottom of the ninth, a 3-2 count, and the bases are loaded,” said Stein campaign attorney Lawrence Otter. “Either we hit it out of the park or, you know, we strike out.”
The Greens scrambled over the weekend to find hundreds of voters willing to sign petitions seeking recounts in their home voting precincts.
The election code says that will happen if three voters in a precinct file them.
But some filings came late, after county election boards had certified their votes, so it’s not clear how many local recounts will occur.
Otter said the real goal is getting access to the state’s voting technology to look for evidence of hacking.
“That’s the hard part,” he said. “We’re going to have to have a judge order a county to allow our expert to come in and forensically examine the computers and the tabulating machine.”
So Otter filed a formal contest to the state’s presidential vote, a first for Pennsylvania. In order to file a contest, the Stein campaign needed affidavits from 100 qualified voters.
The harder part is making that case that enough votes — more than 70,000 — can be invalidated to reverse Republican Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton.
The case for hacking
The Stein campaign’s affidavits — both for the precinct recounts and the contest to the statewide result — rely mostly on a memo from University of Michigan computer scientist Alex Halderman.
Halderman makes the case that the state’s voting systems are vulnerable to cyber-hacking, that they could have plausibly been hacked in this election, and that only a recount and forensic review of the voting equipment can rule that out.
The difficulty is that courts want evidence, and the Clinton campaign workers noted in a statement over the weekend they’ve seen no “actionable evidence” of hacking in the election.
I spoke with Stein herself on the phone Monday and noted that her efforts in Pennsylvania might have accomplished more if they hadn’t waited till the last minute.
“The trigger was pulled on this just barely before Thanksgiving,” she said.
She said she knew about the tight filing deadlines, but said it took that long for the technical experts to “feel like they had a critical mass of evidence to give this a fighting chance.”
When I asked what evidence there was in Pennsylvania, she referred to the number of counties that use outdated voting machines that are vulnerable to hacking and don’t generate a paper record of each ballot.
Most election lawyers I’ve spoken with see the challenge as a long shot.
But we’ll see what the recounts show, and the campaign will have its day in court.
The Clinton campaign has said only that it will “participate” in any recounts to ensure they’re fair to all parties, but it’s not clear exactly what that means.