Friday, December 9, 2016

Federal judge rejects request to halt presidential results recount

A federal judge this morning rejected a request to halt the recount of nearly 3 million ballots cast in Wisconsin's presidential race.

Judge James Peterson told lawyers for Great America PAC and the Stop Hillary PAC, both of which back Donald Trump, their request to stop the recount was "so clearly unwarranted" and there's never been indication it's flawed.

“It is crystal to me that I don’t have the basis for stopping the recount,” Peterson said.

The PACs raised concerns in their suit the recount could push past the deadline to certify Wisconsin’s election results so its 10 electoral votes could be cast for Trump. But the state’s top election official expressed confidence after the hearing the recount would wrap up by Monday’s deadline.

The state Elections Commission said yesterday that with 82 percent of the ballots already recounted, Hillary Clinton had only gained 61 votes, far from overcoming Trump’s original lead of 22,177.

Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas told reporters after the hearing the case “did not seem like a close call to us in the first place” and that election officials are in the “home stretch” of finishing the recount.

“We’re happy that there was not an additional complication thrown in at the end,” he said.

Counties face a deadline of 8 p.m. Monday to submit their recount results to the Elections Commission, though Haas says the state’s 72 counties will all meet that deadline and that most have already done so. The next day, the state faces a federal deadline to certify the results. And the following Monday, Wisconsin’s 10 electors are scheduled to meet to cast their votes for Trump.

The pro-Trump groups said the timeline left “very little margin for error in case problems arise” in any of the counties that haven’t yet wrapped up their recount. That would not leave enough time to file a lawsuit if a problem arises. There’s “little need” for the recount to continue since the results so far have “simply confirmed the accuracy” of the election night outcome, they said.

They also argued Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate who requested the recount, should “not be permitted to attempt to unilaterally destroy” the chances for Wisconsin’s electoral college votes counting by filing a lawsuit that could hold up the results.

“This Court should not allow a candidate who received 1 percent of the vote to inject such baseless uncertainty and doubt onto the results and legitimacy of the election,” they wrote in a brief filed ahead of today’s hearing.

A lawyer for the state DOJ, representing the Elections Commission, called that a “hypothetical concern” and asked Peterson to let the recount wrap up.

“It is on time. It is going smoothly,” DOJ attorney Mike Murphy said.

Peterson agreed, saying that even if someone appeals the recount results, the state’s electoral votes will still get counted and the legal process would continue later.

“It wouldn’t stop the Electoral College from electing Mr. Trump as the president. … The country would continue to proceed, Mr. Trump would take office, and that would be fine, and then we would continue if there were an appeal,” Peterson said.

Peterson rejected the pro-Trump groups’ request for an injunction blocking the recount, adding  he may dismiss it for a lack of standing in the coming days.

Debra Greenberger, a Stein attorney, told reporters after the hearing the campaign was “very pleased” with Peterson’s decision.

And Haas, the Elections Commission administrator, said any lawsuit that happens after the recount wraps up is “really out of our control at that point.”

The recount, he said, will be a “positive learning experience” and has flagged several minor issues that the commission will then use to train the state’s 1,854 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks.

“It’s been a huge inconvenience, of course, for clerks,” Haas said. “It’s been a challenge, but the last five years, we’ve seen our state and local election officials step up to every challenge and get things done. So I’m really pleased and proud.”

-- By Polo Rocha

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.