Here’s How the Jill Stein–Led Recount Effort Is Going in Philly

It’s complicated. It’s also unlikely to succeed.

Jill Stein lawyer in County Board of Elections office

Jill Stein lawyer Ilann Maazel sits in the County Board of Elections office at City Hall. | Photo: Dan McQuade

For Beth Finn, it was about having doubts.

The Washington Square resident, inspired by a well-publicized effort by former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, made her way down to the County Board of Elections at City Hall on Monday to hand in a petition asking for a recount of the election results in her precinct. “I came down because I think it’s important to make sure the election results are accurate and complete,” she said. “And there are just enough questions that have been raised that I think it’s important to audit and look at those questions.”

There are several ways for a recount to happen in Pennsylvania. First, a recount is automatic if the margin of victory is within 0.5 percent. (Trump won by more, so that one’s out.) The second is a voter-initiated recount, like the kind Finn attempted to file at City Hall yesterday. Third, the courts can initiate a recount if there is an allegation of widespread voter fraud. That’s the additional route Stein’s recount campaign is taking: Along with the voter petitions handed in at City Hall, the Stein campaign also filed a suit yesterday afternoon calling the 2016 election “illegal.”

Finn said she first became aware of questions surrounding the election results on Facebook. There, a New York magazine post citing several well-respected computer scientists who had doubts about the vote totals was widely shared. Once Stein raised millions for an auditing of election results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the recount effort was on.

For Finn and many others who spoke with Philadelphia magazine yesterday, filing petitions to challenge the election result was part of a way to attempt to make some sense of what happened on November 8th. Donald Trump’s victory stunned the country, as he’d trailed in state polls for months leading up to Election Day.

woman with papers on floor — recount petitions

Petitions calling for a recount in the 2016 presidential election line the floor of City Hall. | Photo: Dan McQuade

“I was just so terribly disappointed and shocked — and in disbelief — at the outcome of the election,” said Maggie Fenerty, a retired city attorney who lives in Chestnut Hill and voted for Hillary Clinton. “I was just so surprised. … Looking at the results just makes me wonder if there’s some sort of tampering. I don’t think there’s voter fraud so much, but to me this effort is about seeing if there was some sort of tampering of software on the voting machines.”

Fenerty, who signed up to volunteer with the Stein recount effort yesterday around 1 p.m., walked Philadelphia magazine through the process. Pennsylvania’s recount process is convoluted. To get an audit of the results, three voters from each election division must file an affidavit asking for one. The petition used by Stein’s recount campaign cites Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan who outlined a scenario in which election totals could be altered in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

But you must have three petitions for each division in order to submit them, say recount campaign organizers and volunteers. The hallway at City Hall, then, was lined with petitions challenging the election totals. If a person came in with only one or two petitions from their voting precinct, they were organized on the floor outside the County Board of Elections office. There they sat, waiting for another petition from the same precinct to join them.

To further complicate things, the affidavits asking for a recount had to be notarized. Volunteers were sending people to the TD Bank at 15th and JFK if they came in without notarized documents; TD notarizes documents for free, regardless of whether you’re a bank customer.

One person who showed up to hand in petitions asking for a recount in his division was Ryan Hupp, a Temple student from Alabama. “I have close local experience with Jeff Sessions,” Hupp said, referring to the Alabama senator who is Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I want to do anything I can do to keep that man out of the Justice Department.”

Unfortunately for Hupp, City Commissioner Al Schmidt said around noon he was only expecting petitions for about 50 divisions. There are 1,686 of them in the city.

An election lawyer for Stein, Ilann Maazel, stood in the hallway at City Hall asking voters to sign another petition. This was the one filed yesterday afternoon by Bucks County lawyer Lawrence Otter. The filing was done to “protect [petitioners’] right to substantively contest the 2016 Presidential Election, should the findings and outcome of the recounts so warrant.”

The petition calls the 2016 election “illegal” and says the “return thereof was not correct.” It cites Halderman, public reports of hacking into the DNC and the voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the disconnect between pre-election polls and the results of the election.

“Petitioners have grave concerns about the integrity of electronic voting machines used in their districts,” the petition says. It also says if Pennsylvania recounts “yield no addition proof that the 2016 Presidential Election was illegal and the return was not correct, petitioners may withdraw this petition to contest.” Most Pennsylvania voting machines do not have a paper trail; security firm Carbon Black said the state “may pose the biggest security risk” before the election.

Stein is still asking for volunteers to observe the recount. “Americans deserve a voting system we can trust,” Stein said in a statement. “After a presidential election tarnished by the use of outdated and unreliable machines and accusations of irregularities and hacks, people of all political persuasions are asking if our election results are reliable. We must recount the votes so we can build trust in our election system. We need to verify the vote in this and every election so that Americans of all parties can be sure we have a fair, secure and accurate voting system.”

There has been some headway made in the recount effort. In Allegheny County, the Board of Elections did not certify election results as originally planned. They’ll reconvene on December 12th. Montgomery County also delayed certifying election results, and said it accepted petitions yesterday that called for a recount.

But hurdles remain. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, told reporters: “There is no evidence whatsoever that points to any type of irregularity in any way, shape or form.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State told the Inquirer the deadline for a voter-initiated recount was actually November 21st — last Monday. And some counties didn’t accept challenges: Berks County has already tallied its vote totals, forcing activists to file petitions with the courts.

So the Stein camp’s petition, reproduced below, seems like the last chance for those asking for a recount to get one in Pennsylvania. Trump won Pennsylvania by more than 70,000 votes. It is basically impossible the recount would flip that many votes to give the state to Clinton. The activists yesterday were holding out for one last chance, but it is certain that in January we’re going to get President Donald Trump.