WI recount: An exercise in manual and automated futility

If the state of Wisconsin didn’t finish its recount yesterday, it will almost certainly complete that task today — one way or another. By the end of the day on Saturday, precincts that had reported 91.32% of the original vote totals have completed their recounts. Ten precincts in the state had yet to report any results, plus the city of Milwaukee had still not reported their full results including all absentee ballot recounts. Unlike everywhere else in Wisconsin, Milwaukee counts their absentees in a central location and then reports the results back to the precincts for the final tallies. Remember, though, that these absentees have already been counted in the original results; they are being recounted along with all of the other ballots, not counted for the first time, so it’s not likely that those numbers will change in any different degree than we are seeing elsewhere.

So … what degree is that? Minuscule. Donald Trump won the election by 22,617 votes in the original count from Election Night out of a total vote of 2.939,293 ballots in the presidential race. The net change in ballot counts from the 91.32% votes from completed precincts: 1,480 added, which makes the change 0.0551% of the original count in those completed precincts. The change in vote totals for each candidate:

  • Trump: +628
  • Clinton: +691
  • Stein: +68
  • Johnson: +76

With only eight percent of precincts left to report official recount results (including all of the city of Milwaukee), Jill Stein has only managed to reduce Trump’s lead by 63 votes. To change the outcome of the election, Wisconsin would have to find changes that would produce a 22,555-vote difference in the final 255,000 or so votes left to tally. That would require a change of 8.84% at a minimum — and every change would have to be in favor of Hillary Clinton. It’s not going to happen.

As I wrote two weeks ago, the recount in Wisconsin (and in Michigan and Pennsylvania, for that matter) have only succeeded in two things: separating a lot of gullible people from their money, and in demonstrating that the mechanisms for counting votes operate in a highly reliable manner. Ivory Snow trademarked its soap slogan of “99 and 44/100ths% pure,” but it also applies almost precisely to Wisconsin’s election-night counts, too. In fact, the earlier-reporting precincts had an even lower rate of error, but no county has had any changes that stand out as particularly remarkable, let alone have any drama at all to them.

Some Stein and Hillary supporters have responded to the utter lack of significance in the recount results by blaming it on the denial of a statewide hand recount (a decision reached by a state judge at the beginning of the recount process). That’s an absurd argument in a couple of different ways. First, 47 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties did perform hand recounts, and another 13 had a mix of precincts doing hand recounts or machine recounts; two of those 13 only had one municipality using machines. Only 12 counties conducted their recounts entirely by machines. The 47 counties that exclusively conducted recounts by hand account for roughly 70% of the vote total in the election.

The second absurdity: It turns out that there was little difference in the change rate for hand-recounted precincts. The overall change rate for the state thus far has been 0.0551%, as noted above. The overall change rate for the 47 counties that conducted recounts entirely by hand was … 0.0607%. The difference between those two change rates, applied to the entire state’s vote total, would add another 166 votes in total.

The state should finish its recount sometime today. If for some reason the remaining precincts do not report final recount totals, the state does have the option of using their original Election Night tallies in order to certify their slate of electors in time for tomorrow’s safe-harbor deadline for the Electoral College, but it’s unlikely it will come to that. It won’t make any difference at all anyway. As was utterly predictable, recounting a state with a 22,617-vote gap was a waste of time, resources, and money … but at least Jill Stein got another 15 minutes of conspiracy-theory fame in 2016, and a lot of fools and their money suffered their usual fate.