Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Bob. The 2016 election has come and gone. What, if anything, is there to talk about now?
Bob Fitrakis: The big news is that Jill Stein’s Green Party presidential campaign is asking for a recount of the votes in three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. All of these states are significantly outside the margin of error from the unadjusted exit poll numbers contrasted to the reported vote count. I am acting as an of-counsel attorney, pro bono, for the Stein campaign. I believe this is a historically important effort due to the lack of transparency in our elections, that allow private, for-profit, partisan companies to program our computerized voting machines and central tabulators.
JB: Agreed. How did Stein decide to do this action? It’s unusual, to say the least. Can you give us some background, please?
BF: Actually, in this case, it’s not that unusual. David Cobb, Stein’s campaign manager, asked for a recount in Ohio after he ran for president with the Green Party in 2004. Both the Green Party and Libertarian Party endorsed that effort. Later research, much of it published at the freepress.org and at OpEdNews indicated that the 2004 election was in fact stolen by electronically moving the vote count from Ohio to a company called Smarttech in Chattanooga, Tennessee to flip the vote from Kerry to Bush.
When Jill ran for president in 2012, she called a press conference the day of the election and questioned the “secret experimental patches” placed on county central tabulators in 40 or so Ohio counties. She is a supporter of election transparency. The three states chosen for the recount all have statistical red flags and were very close in the votes between the two major presidential candidates. Stein believes the voters of the United States have the right to a fair and accurate count.
JB: Once the decision was made, how do you move forward? I imagine that the cost of recounting is quite expensive. Who’s going to pay for this?
BF: It all happened very quickly. The biggest obstacle was that the Wisconsin deadline was on Friday November 25, and it was Wednesday, November 23 and there was no funding for it. And it was the day before Thanksgiving. The fee in Wisconsin, just for the recount, is estimated to be $1.1 million. Wisconsin requires that you pay every public employee’s salary for the time spent on the recount. There are over 1700 registrars, each with employees, plus the legal fees for the paid litigation firm could easily run more than $1 million for Wisconsin alone.
The Stein campaign put up a website on Wednesday for donations, and couldn’t take more than $2700 per donor. The Federal Elections Commission requires that a recount effort must create a separate fund and account for all the donations and expenditures. The funds cannot go into the Green Party for political activity, it must be spent on the recount.
So, when I see people on the internet suggesting that Jill did it to get rich or to fund the Green Party, people need to know that the money can only be spent on the recount.
So far the estimated amount of funding needed for the three states is between $6-7 million. Wisconsin and Michigan appear to be covered, with the fund-raising earning over $5 million as we speak. And I suspect Pennsylvania’s costs will be covered over the next couple of days. It’s possible that the actual cost could go over $7 million depending on how contentious and litigious the recount becomes.
JB: Thanks for answering those internet rumors. That’s an amazing outburst of support for the recount, especially in such a short time, and with Thanksgiving smack in the middle. Were you surprised at the quick progress? What do you think it means?
BF: Surprised? We were stunned. We were looking at all other possibilities, like borrowing money, before we saw the great response. The best part about it is that is came mainly from small donors. Donors’ names will be public record.
It was an election with the two most disfavored nominees ever recorded, with one the candidates constantly raising the issue of “rigged” elections. And it was clear that media commentators and pollsters were expecting a different result. So, I think the Green Party has provided a unique opportunity to recount and verify the actual vote. Let’s all hope it’s done in a nonpartisan manner that establishes the actual vote count and clears up any questions about the outcome of the election. Although we still have the problem of non-transparency and a system where a candidate can win by more than 2 million popular votes and still lose the election in the electoral college.
I hope that people understand and learn from this recount that our system is fundamentally flawed and that we should demand that there be no place in a democratic system for secret proprietary software in our voting process.
JB: I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said here, Bob. Our system is definitely broken. But of course, it’s much more complicated than it might seem. States don’t make it easy to recount, do they? And recounts in the past have been less than kosher. It’s important for our readers to have realistic expectations going into this.
BF: We have a essentially a Jim Crow “state’s rights” voting scheme which gives tremendous power to 50 different state governments to control the voting process. For example, I would personally have loved to see a recount this year in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida as well. However, the various state laws and costs made it virtually impossible.
When Ohio was recounted in 2004, there were numerous irregularities in the recount itself. In Hocking County, a private technician showed up without an appointment prior to the recount and swapped out a hard drive from the central tabulator. He also offered the assistance director of the Board of Elections what she termed a “cheat sheet” with numbers on it he said that would match the official vote totals.
In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) they illegally pre-counted the required 3% of the vote for the recount to make sure it matched, and then selected it non-randomly. The law required that it must be a random 3% recount. The election officials were later convicted for this.
So, the expectation going forward is that it will be better this time because we will be aware of the tricks from 2004, but it still will be a battle. I’m hoping that computer forensic experts are used this time to make sure there are print-outs from the DRE machines, particularly in Pennsylvania, and that the central tabulators are checked as well as the portable drives coming in from the precinct machines.
I expect the greatest outpouring of election integrity volunteers in US history to flood these states to ensure an accurate recount in the fight for democracy regardless of the final outcome.
JB: I hope you’ll let us know when you know just how volunteers can participate. It’s an enticing opportunity. But I’d like to talk more about the process itself. You mentioned the importance of bringing computer forensic experts into the recount. Who decides the rules? I’m assuming the challenger does not have the upper hand here but I may be wrong.
BF: When a state is involved in a recount, they have the authority to dictate the rules. I expect there will be a struggle over this. I know the Green Party would like to go beyond the let’s push the machine’s button and get the same voting results. We have, thanks to the response of the people, the money to push back and hopefully get a real recount that allows us to pull the curtain back on proprietary software.
JB: Thanks for those resources, Bob. Let’s dive back into the recount for a moment. Numerous people are voicing concern. Is it possible that the recount can somehow backfire if it’s sabotaged by the individual states, and thus give false legitimacy to an election that may deserve none? done
BF: At worst, it would reflect the totally implausible numbers that have already been offered to the public. What is deserved is the epic battle between the forces for election integrity and transparency and those who want to privately count our votes in secret. People should think of this as a unique opportunity to take a look inside a horrendous and unacceptable way of voting.
To amend Bismarck, three things people don’t want to watch being made: sausage, foreign policy and the voting process.
JB: I understand that the Clinton is coming onboard, albeit belatedly and in a limited way. Is this a good thing?
BF: It would have been a much better thing had she asked for a recount much sooner and put her resources behind it. This appears to be a long tradition of too little, too late. From Gore in Florida in 2000 to Kerry in Ohio in 2004, and now Clinton in Wisconsin in 2016.
The Democratic Party has not only disappointed most of their voting base by allowing the industrial heartland cities to be hollowed out, but also by allowing them to be stripped from the voting rolls, suppressed, and not challenging the funny numbers that come from private companies controlling our voting machines and central tabulators.
Clinton has every right under Wisconsin law to be part of the process. I would like to hope it is good that she’s coming onboard. Historically however, the main accomplishments of Gore and Kerry as Democrats has been to validate a totally dysfunctional and undemocratic nontransparent system.
JB: So, it could go either way? Could Clinton involvement block or negate Stein’s efforts somehow? What if Stein is agitating for a more robust recount and Clinton’s minions, for whatever reason, oppose that?
BF: Stein is paying for the recount. I haven’t heard what resources Clinton is putting into the recount effort. Stein has already hired a highly-regarded law firm which will be pressing aggressively for an accurate and thorough recount.
Stein, the Green Party, and in particular, election integrity activists are what’s driving the recount in the three states. If Clinton sends in “minions” hopefully they will spend their time working hard to get a thorough and accurate vote count.
JB: I sure hope so! What’s the timeline we’re looking at? There’s not that big a window before the Electoral College certifies the next president.
BF: We believe that the Wisconsin recount will start on Thursday. There’s a slight chance it could begin as early as Wednesday. We hope to work diligently to get it done as quickly as possible, but a lot of that is up to the state.
The last statewide recount in Wisconsin took a month, but this one must be done by December 13 -- the “safe harbor” day, the day that states are guaranteed that their electoral votes will be counted. But if more time is needed to be accurate, the Electoral College is not meeting until December 19.
We plan to go into Michigan and Pennsylvania this week as well, starting later than Wisconsin, at even a greater disadvantage.
Let’s think back on the 2000 election in Florida. If the whole state would have been recounted, Al Gore would have become president. The recount can’t be simply pushing a button and having the magic nontransparent numbers regurgitated from the black box machines. It may take some time -- accuracy is more important than speed.
JB: I get that accuracy is the goal. But you’re also operating under an incredibly tight timeframe. You have less time than there was for the last Wisconsin statewide recount. Couldn’t states just drag their feet and then the recount could simply not get done in time? Gov. Walker of Wisconsin is certainly capable of that.
BF: In this era of social media, any attempt by the state to delay or obstruct a recount in Wisconsin will do nothing but delegitimize the state of Wisconsin, the recount and by default, the Trump presidency. Trump should welcome a thorough and well done recount.
JB: He should. That’s true. Is there any way that enough votes or voting irregularities can be identified in Wisconsin and the other two states to flip those elections and therefore the Electoral College count? And if not, is this process still worth it?
BF: The point of the recount is to get an accurate count. The election is marred by the suspect numbers in the primary against Sanders, with the Wikileaks hacks that revealed the unfair tactics used by the Democratic National Committee, and now by exit polls suggesting statistically unlikely numbers in key battleground states.
We need to treat these states the same way our US State Department does when these type of exit poll number happen in foreign countries, and demand a recount.
There are at least three major counties in Wisconsin, and 80 or so smaller municipalities with highly inflated vote totals. So there are key places that need to be examined carefully. Also, people need to look into these companies, like Command Central, the Dominion voting machine provider in Wisconsin. Their actions were called into question in the last recount.
The results of the recounts are not likely to flip the election, but they might, and we should welcome that as a triumph for democracy if the recount establishes a winner through a thorough and accurate count.
JB: Did we mention the vast numbers (over one million, according to Greg Palast) of voters who were removed from the voting rolls across the country? How much did that factor in? Also, if voting irregularities are identified in these three states, why would we ever think that the problem is limited to just those three? We’ve been continually putting our faith in a completely nontransparent system that allows no citizen oversight. That’s a pretty big system design flaw, no?
BF: Clearly the problem isn’t in just the three states, but is in the entire system. In reality, the so-called battleground states are only close because of the massive stripping of the voter rolls of black, minority and poor voters. In addition to that, a racist and politically-motivated war on drugs has eliminated many black male and minority voters.
My co-author Harvey Wasserman and I wrote about this in our book “The Strip and Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows and Electronic Election Theft.” At the core of our system is this new Jim Crow that allows states to purge black and minority voters in unconstitutional ways and get away with it. They know they have to strip the vote, deregister people of color, so they can make the election close enough to get away with flipping it.
In my state of Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted purged 1 million voters in the run-up to the 2016 election. If voting were a constitutional right and if the state was obligated to register its citizens to vote, as they do under the European Union Constitution, the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio wouldn’t be battleground states.
I agree with what President Jimmy Carter told Der Spiegel, the US is a dysfunctional democracy.
Vote purging is more widespread now than it was in 1965 when we passed the Voting Rights Act. None of these states would have needed to be recounted if we had universal registration and it was a constitutional right. The vote would not have been close.
Another problems is the lock that the two major political parties have over this dysfunctional democracy. We need to desperately hear other voices and elect other people -- be they Green, Libertarian, or others.
JB: Carter was right on target with his remarks. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up? How can people follow the progress of the recount/s? Do you still need funding for Pennsylvania? What else do we need to know?
BF: One thing I’d like to point out is that there is already a system that counts scanned ballots with open source software. It is used in Humboldt County, California. It’s called the Trachtenberg system. The key is to get rid of proprietary software as a first step and allow only open source software controlled by the government, not private companies, until we can move to hand counted paper ballots.
The last time I looked, we still needed another $1.5 million to recount Pennsylvania and pay all of the expenses. There are numerous election integrity sites, I think most of the readers of OpEdNews realize that the worst place to get their information is from the mainstream for-profit media. People need to go to the Green Party site and volunteer and if you are an election integrity activist and you live in any of the recount states or nearby.
This is a historic event. The only legitimate excuse for not participating would be if you were standing with our Native brothers and sisters at Standing Rock.
JB: Okay, readers: If you haven’t donated yet to the recount effort, don’t miss your chance! Thanks so much for talking with me, Bob. This is, indeed, historic. Good luck in the recounts.
BF: My pleasure, thank you Joan. You are always on top of things in the election integrity world. I appreciate your work!
JB: Thank you, Bob. But I’m not the one doing the heavy lifting. Thanks to you and Harvey and the entire election integrity community for never giving up after all these years and tainted elections. It’s inspiring!