GOP warns recount puts Michigan’s electors at risk

Chad Livengood , Detroit News Lansing Bureau
9:51 p.m. EST November 29, 2016

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(Photo: Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Lansing — Michigan Republican Party leaders warned Tuesday a massive and costly statewide recount of the presidential election could drag on for weeks and cost the state its final say in who occupies the White House next year.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s recount request, expected to be filed Wednesday afternoon, will trigger a hurried sprint to meet a Dec. 13 federal deadline for Michigan to declare a final winner in the presidential contest, GOP officials said.

“If we don’t have this process over by Dec. 13, we certainly jeopardize Michigan’s electors and risk disenfranchising all of Michigan’s voters from the election,” said Eric Doster, general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party.

State election officials say their reading of 19th century federal law shows the state has to finalize the election results six days before the Dec. 19 meeting of the Electoral College, when each state’s electors cast the final vote for president.

Michigan gets 16 electors who are supposed to cast their votes in the state Senate’s chamber.

Mark Brewer, a Southfield attorney representing Stein, said it’s not clear the Dec. 13 date is a “hard deadline,” though he said the recount can be completed by then if it starts Friday without any interruptions.

Brewer called the GOP’s warnings of mass voter disenfranchisement “wild speculation.”

“There is no basis for any of that,” said Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

In the 2000 election, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Florida recount in part because the Sunshine State had run into that year’s Dec. 12 deadline to finalize its vote. In the court’s 5-4 decision, the justices also ruled that a Florida Supreme Court recount order of ballots cast but not counted by voting machines was unconstitutional because it granted more protection to some ballots than to others.

As a result, Florida’s original certification that George W. Bush won the state was allowed to stand, handing the Texas governor a victory in the Electoral College and the presidency.

Michigan could face a similar fate if the recount isn’t complete by Dec. 13, state elections director Chris Thomas said.

“The question that’s out there ... what happens if we’re not done by the 13th?” Thomas said Monday. “And I think the recount’s probably off at that point. That’s what the Supreme Court did back in 2000. It stopped the process right there.”

State Elections Director Chris Thomas explains the Dec. 13 deadline to complete a statewide hand recount of 4.8 million ballots cast in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Mounting recount costs
The sparring between the Trump and Stein camps over the recount and its potential impact on Michigan’s vote came as Secretary of State Ruth Johnson suggested Tuesday the cost of a hand recount of 4.8 million votes could approach $2 million.

That would be more more than double what Green Party candidate Jill Stein will be required to pay.

Johnson’s office originally estimated it would cost about $790,000 for recounting ballots by hand in Michigan’s 6,300 precincts. On Tuesday, state elections officials increased Stein’s recount fee to $973,250 based on additional for absentee ballots to be recounted, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Johnson.

But Johnson said Tuesday the cost could more than double if Stein goes through with a full recount.

“It’s hard to really predict, but I don’t think the $900,000 will really cover half,” Johnson said on WJR’s “Paul W. Smith Show.”

Wisconsin’s elections commission has estimated the recount Stein and independent candidate Rocky Roque De La Fuente have requested in the Badger State will cost nearly $3.5 million. Both candidates face a 4:30 p.m. Tuesday deadline to make a full payment, according to the Wisconsin commission.

Stein on Tuesday increased her $7 million three-state recount fundraising goal to $9.5 million to pay for what her campaign called Wisconsin’s “outrageous” recount filing fee.

“We have been really under attack by a system that doesn't want us to count the vote, that doesn't want we the voters to have oversight, to have accountability and transparency in the system,” Stein said in a Facebook video.

“We could be looking at a similar cost here in Michigan,” Woodhams said in a Tuesday email. “Wisconsin and Michigan have roughly the same geographical size, and the same number of counties and local voting jurisdictions.”

The final cost will depend on how many recount staff need to be hired, how much conference room space is rented and how long the recount lasts, Woodhams said.

Officials in Wisconsin rejected Stein’s request for a total recount by hand, so that cost estimate is basely on largely recounting 2.9 million ballots using machines. Stein wants a total recount of Michigan’s votes by hand, Brewer said.

Doster said he doubts the cost of the recount could be as low as $2 million, noting it usually costs $10 million and $12 million to conduct a statewide election.

“That number just seems to be remarkably low, particularly when you look at what it costs to run a statewide election,” Doster said.

Stein’s lawyer continued to defend the cost of a recount as a necessary part of the electoral process.

“The right to vote is priceless, and we need to make sure that every vote gets counted — and that’s what this is about,” Brewer said.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Tuesday that lawmakers may need to revisit the fees losing candidates are charged for conducting statewide recounts.

“I am concerned about the costs to the taxpayer, specifically with a candidate who got 1.07 percent (of the vote) being able to put forward a recount that will be so cumbersome for our state and potentially put our electors at risk,” McDaniel said.

Stein faces a deadline of 2:05 p.m. Wednesday to file for a recount in Michigan, about 48 hours after the Board of State Canvassers certified the election results showing Trump winning Michigan by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton. (517) 371-3661