While Jill Stein’s recount in Wisconsin has resulted in increasing Donald Trump’s lead by 39 votes after four days, Team Trump wants to cut off any more needless delays — and the risk that three states might miss the Electoral College. New filings by Trump to stop the recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan emphasize the fact that Stein has produced no evidence of tampering or massive fraud in the counting of the ballots. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump argues that Trump has changed his tune, given his claim that as many as three million illegal immigrants cast ballots in the election:
Three leading Republicans were asked over the weekend whether or not they agreed with Donald Trump’s tweeted assertion that millions of voters had cast illegal ballots (part of Trump’s effort to rebut his popular vote loss).
Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus said that such a scenario was “possible.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said he didn’t know if millions of illegal votes were cast, because he is “not really focused on these things.” Vice-president-elect Mike Pence echoed Ryan’s sentiment, saying that he didn’t know that the claim was false.
All three should have listened to representatives from another leading Republican: Donald Trump. In court filings submitted in an effort to block recount efforts by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in Michigan and Pennsylvania, attorneys for the president-elect stated unequivocally that there was, in fact, no evidence that any voter fraud had occurred. …
“On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise Michigan citizens? None really, save for speculation,” it reads. “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
Bump refers to this tweet from a week ago:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
On that score, Reince Priebus told John Dickerson that it was “possible”:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 4, 2016
Bump’s contrast relies on a confusion of two very different issues with voting integrity. Jill Stein is arguing that the ballot-counting system has had its integrity breached; Trump’s arguing that the ballot-casting system has had its integrity breached. Recounts can’t fix the latter problem, which is one reason why this isn’t an example of hypocrisy between the two statements. To fix the integrity of the ballot-casting process, states should not just institute voter-ID laws, but also require proof of citizenship when registering to vote. No state seems willing to go that far, and California certainly won’t implement either solution. By the time the ballots are cast and collected, it’s too late to catch or fully quantify that kind of fraud.
The ballot-counting process, on the other hand, has been repeatedly proven to perform with 99.97% accuracy across a number of states. In any election other than presidential, the only issues with recounts of results that fall outside a 0.1% gap are cost and annoyance; states can delay a change in office until the results are thrashed out in court to the point of exhaustion. It took seven months to seat Al Franken in the US Senate after the 2008 election, for example, but there were 99 other Senators to conduct business during that period.
In presidential elections, however, there is a very tight deadline — the safe-harbor date for the Electoral College. Electors meet on December 19th to cast their ballots, but each state has to submit their electors by December 13th to certify their slate. Making that deadline means Congress automatically certifies the slate unless a specific challenge is made. If they miss that deadline, then Congress has to certify them as an exception, which is an element of uncertainty that risks disenfranchising an entire state (or three states, in this case). If they don’t finish in time enough for Congress to act before the Electoral College meets, or miss the December 19th date entirely, then no one’s presidential-election votes in those states will have counted at all.
Recounts and challenges in presidential elections can’t go on forever, which is why they should only be undertaken for serious reasons, and not on the basis of fringe candidates and their conspiracy theories. It’s not hypocritical at all to point out the issues of ballot integrity on the front end while defending the process of counting ballots and protecting the status of voters on the other hand. Furthermore, Trump is exactly correct in these filings, and the courts should balance the nonsensical claims of Jill Stein to the very real risks of disenfranchising millions of voters.