Federal judge orders immediate start to MI recount

Early this morning, a federal judge ordered Michigan to ignore a statutory two-day delay and start its recount in the presidential election by noon today. Judge Mark Goldsmith held a three-hour hearing yesterday and burned the midnight oil to issue his order after its state election officials scheduled the start of the recount for Wednesday. Does this mean that Michigan will actually conduct a full recount? Well … it’s complicated:

A federal judge early Monday morning ordered a recount of Michigan’s presidential ballots to begin at noon on Monday, and for the state to “assemble necessary staff to work sufficient hours” to complete the recount by a Dec. 13 federal deadline.

Lawyers for Green Party candidate Jill Stein urged the action in an emergency request, and U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith held a rare Sunday hearing in federal court. It lasted three hours, and Goldsmith issued a written opinion just after midnight on Monday morning.

Goldsmith said a state law requiring a two business day waiting period to start the recount likely violates voting rights. Stein has shown “a credible threat that the recount, if delayed, would not be completed” by Dec. 13 — the federal “safe harbor” deadline to guarantee Michigan’s electoral votes are counted when the electoral college meets on Dec. 19.

So the recount is on, right? Probably. Stein’s lawsuit challenged the two-day delay in a recount that state election officials had already agreed to conduct. The delay is to allow a court challenge to the Board of Canvassers to be heard, but Goldsmith’s action has probably mooted that anyway. While the specific challenge was to the two-day delay, Goldsmith’s hearing went into the broader issues of the recount and challenges to Stein’s demands.

Still, two scenarios are still possible that might stop the recount. One, a state court could overrule the Board of Canvassers and halt the recount, although Goldsmith’s order makes it appear as though that would have to happen before noon ET. Two, the 6th Circuit could overrule Goldsmith in whole or in part. That might be a bit more likely, as Stein’s attorneys admitted that a Wednesday start wouldn’t necessarily endanger the state’s ability to meet the safe-harbor deadline for the Electoral College. Notably, the state testified that it had already certified its slate of electors, so that the only risk would be if the election outcome changed and they had no time to get a new slate certified before time ran out in the Electoral College.

The upshot is that the recount is probably going to take place, but it’s unlikely to matter much. Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes out of 4,799,284 cast. That’s a margin of 0.223%, which sounds tiny until one realizes that recounts generally tend to make changes only a tenth of that size — roughly 0.022%, as happened in Florida in 2000 and in Minnesota’s 2008 Senate recount.

That’s about the margin in Wisconsin’s recount so far, too. Their Day 4 update shows that the recount is just past a third of the way complete, and the changes are not exactly dramatic. In fact, Trump has extended his 22,177-vote lead slightly:

In Michigan, a 0.0264% change would move 1,267 votes — nowhere near enough to make a difference in this election. Michigan’s also the closest election of the three states in which Stein has filed recount demands. They are exercises in futility based on nothing but unspecified and unsubstantiated claims. Coming from a fourth-place candidate who barely outpolled the margins she’s challenging, they’re also exercises in absurdity.