Most people couldn’t wait for the grueling, nasty, seemingly interminable 2016 election to end. Jill Stein wants to keep it going. And she’s willing to waste a lot of money, time, and attention to do so. Like a bad actor that insists on one last curtain call after the audience has headed for the exits, the Green Party nominee seems to stubbornly believe in her relevance even after the election demonstrated its non-existence beyond any doubt.
Stein’s demand for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania demonstrates arrogance bordering on parody. Stein didn’t lose the election so much as she disappeared in it. More than 134 million ballots have been counted so far. Stein received fewer than 1.5 million of them. That’s barely a percentage point of the overall popular vote. Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson garnered more than 4 million votes, while the two major-party nominees scored between 62 and 65 million votes each.
Legally, any candidate has standing to request a recount — as long as they pay the costs. Politically and morally, however, Stein utterly lacks any standing to claim she has been harmed by ballot irregularities and counting errors. Proper standing — at least in political and commonsense contexts — would go to the person who might have otherwise won an election without such alleged irregularities.
That means the one candidate who might have a decent argument for recounts in places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan is Hillary Clinton. (And indeed, Stein’s recount demands are surely intended to help Clinton.) So why hasn’t the Democrat who sustained a shocking loss in the party’s famed “Blue Wall” states pushed for recounts herself? For one thing, Clinton has already conceded the race to Donald Trump, reportedly urged by President Barack Obama to do so.
The optics would also be terrible. Clinton spent the last weeks of the election hyperventilating, along with the media, about Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting Election Night results. She called it “horrifying” and repeatedly hit Trump’s lack of respect for the electoral system. To suddenly demand recounts after those attacks would be a hypocrisy that might be beyond the reach of any politician.
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Beyond that, though, there are many thousands of reasons not to demand a recount. Specifically, there are 10,700 reasons in Michigan, 22,000 in Wisconsin, and 68,000 in Pennsylvania. Those are the votes that Clinton would have to make up in a recount to change the outcome in each state, and she’d need to succeed in all three of those states to change the Electoral College outcome. No recount has ever produced a vote change of that magnitude; no recount has even come close to it. FiveThirtyEight‘s Carl Bialik, working off of data from FairVote, noted that only three of 27 statewide recounts since 2000 have succeeded in changing the outcome of an election — and only when the original totals were much closer than any of those seen in the 2016 race.
“The mean swing between the top two candidates in the 27 recounts was 282 votes, with a median of 219,” Bialik explains. “The biggest swing came in Florida’s 2000 presidential election recount, when Al Gore cut 1,247 votes off George W. Bush’s lead, ultimately not enough to flip the state to his column.”
What about the recounts that have succeeded? Well, I had a ringside seat for one in Minnesota, when Al Franken turned an Election Night defeat into a U.S. Senate seat seven months later. The recount turned into the most bruising, partisan, and contentious political fight the state had ever seen. After several months of recounting, ballot challenges, and numerous court appearances, the change in the gap between Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman was 527 votes — a miniscule amount of the 2.6 million votes cast. It was just enough to erase Coleman’s 215-vote lead after the state-certified canvassing a week after the election and give Franken a 312-vote win in its place.
Stein continues to insist that she wants to pursue the recounts to demand change in voting infrastructure. But her recounts, like those 27 that have preceded them since 2000, would likely make the opposite point — that our vote-counting infrastructure actually gets accurate and reliable results. Even the Florida debacle in 2000 changed the results by 0.022 percent, just about the same percentage as in 2008’s Minnesota recount. It would take 10 times that kind of scale to flip Michigan, and 30 times that scale to flip Wisconsin. Stein’s recount demands envision vote swings on a patently ridiculous scale.
Small wonder that even Democrats like Joe Trippi have openly scorned Stein’s effort. “It’s a waste of time and effort,” the Democratic strategist said. “I think it probably was the Stein people looking for a way to stay relevant, raise some money, and take the stink off of them” — a reference to accusations that Stein played a spoiler role in diverting enough Clinton votes in these states to give Trump the victory. Bob Shrum, another Democratic eminence grise, put it more bluntly — that there was “no chance” for these recounts to succeed.
Ballot integrity and voting infrastructure aren’t the reason for Stein’s stunts. Neither is the election outcome. Stein just wants to keep imposing herself on the national stage, eating up time and resources from state governments in order to raise money from suckers unhappy with Trump’s victory and feed her own delusions of relevance. Shame on her, and shame on those egging her on.