MI AG Bill Schuette Is Always on the Wrong Side of History — So I Now Enthusiastically Back MI’s Recount

As I’ve noted in bmaz’ posts opposing Jill Stein’s recounts in WI, MI, and PA (comment, comment), I did not start out opposed to the recounts. While I agree that the recounts are unlikely to change the outcome, I think getting in the habit of doing unexpected recounts is a necessary thing to ensure the integrity of the counting software.

I got more interested in the recount when I learned former MI Democratic Chair Mark Brewer was representing Stein in her challenge in MI. Brewer is a serious lawyer and a numbers genius. His involvement gave me confidence that it will be legally competent.

I also think the recount may help explain the big jump in undervotes this year. As Charles Gaba demonstrated, ballots in this year’s presidential election showed far more ballots in which there was no vote cast for President than in previous years.

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While I think the historic unpopularity of the candidates may explain this, such an explanation would be more convincing if MI had had an important statewide election this year that might explain why people took the trouble to vote but didn’t vote for President. But we didn’t — we’re on the off-cycle for Senator, for example.

Add in the state’s effort to eliminate straight ticket voting and the way that voters are supposed to be able to vote a straight ticket but with one counter-party vote, along with Hillary’s underperformance in swing suburbs, and I think it possible the recount may show something of interest.

Plus, Trump won by less than 11,000 votes, so it wouldn’t take too much to flip the outcome.

Then I saw the reaction of both parties. Both the Republicans and Democrats are taking this recount more seriously than I expected, leading me to believe that both parties have some unstated reason to believe this recount may reveal problems with the election. There were also a few other details about the actions of GOP Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that I have questions about. So my interest grew.

But I was always a bit lukewarm on the recount, at least considering the objections of people like bmaz.

Until now.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette just filed a motion to have the courts force the Board of Canvassers not to count the vote. Schuette cited the risk that the recount might not be finished within the safe harbor period (though any delay and lawsuit just makes that more likely). But he also claimed the recount might cost the state “millions of dollars.”

Schuette’s intervention is, by itself, enough to convince me the recount is a good thing. The man is always on the wrong side of history. Plus, his choice to be on the wrong side of history has itself cost Michigan millions of dollars. We know his efforts to prevent loving couples from marrying cost the state almost $2 million. I don’t think we yet know the full cost of his failed effort to prevent Michiganders from voting a straight ticket, which he also argued all the way to the Supreme Court.

Bill Schuette should not attempt to argue that a legal challenge will cost the state too much money with a straight face, because he has already squandered millions of our tax dollars on his own challenges.

Meanwhile, Schuette is issuing this challenge even as his party is in the middle of rushing through a strict new voter suppression bill that — because it was written to avoid a poll tax challenge — will cost the state undetermined funds, all to combat a voter fraud problem that doesn’t exist. The MI GOP is arguing that the costs of suppressing the vote are worthwhile, while costs of counting it are not.

Finally, all this is taking place even as the MI legislature is rushing through $300 million in new tax cuts for businesses. If we can’t afford to recount the vote, we surely can’t afford to give businesses new giveaways.

So all that has convinced me. If Schuette is opposed to this recount — and if he wants to make up transparently bullshit excuses about costs to make that argument — then I’m now an enthusiastic supporter of it.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about the necessity of making unexpected recounts of votes actually cast (as opposed to paying so much attention to the phantom problem of illegally cast votes, which exist, if at all, in such small numbers as to be statistically irrelevant.) If either party cared about voting integrity, it would back random recounts – audits – of a few states each election, not just where substantial problems exist, fraud was likely, or where the vote was close enough that a recount might change the outcome.

    While we’re at it, Congress should promptly make election day a national holiday. It would make voting easier – and voter suppression harder. Nearly every other major democracy has already done so.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Papers please. As in paper ballots.
      As to a Holiday, it should be a 4 days.
      Saturday thru Tuesday.
      Most likely then working people would
      actually have a chance to vote without
      inconvience.

  2. bmaz says:

    I still firmly maintain the overall effort is a sham. And that the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania portions are complete jokes compared to what people think they are getting out of them. In fact, I think PA will be effectively quashed and mostly over as of Monday’s hearing.

    Will grant that Michigan may well be differently postured due to the closeness of the vote and the maybe anomalous undervote, but mainly because the Michigan recount laws are FAR more favorable to a meaningful undertaking than are WI and PA. I think MI goes through, but there is a legitimate argument, though I think likely ineffective one, that as Stein is the only contestant, it is frivolously taken. Combined with the given argument that there is no known evidentiary basis to allege fraud or mistake, save the undervote component, it appears Trump can make a cognizable challenge. My bet is he loses that argument at both the state admin level, and federal appellate level (which he has already apparently also initiated), and the recount proceeds, but I wouldn’t bet much on it.

  3. bmaz says:

    As an update to anybody here, the Michigan Elections Board split 2-2 on the admin level challenge to the recount there. That means it proceeds for now, pending any change by a court on appeal. Also yet to be determined, whether recount is by hand or machine.

    • emptywheel says:

      The clerks are all arguing that they can meet the deadline if count is by hand, but cannot if they use the machines, in part bc running ballots thru a second time jams them (I’ve experienced this during elections myself), in part because it’ll make it harder to have observers. It sounds like the clerks, possibly on a bipartisan basis, are pissed at Ruth Johnson that she’s pushing for machine recounts.

      • bmaz says:

        I have no way of contradicting that, but it seems very counterintuitive. Will be interesting to see how plays out in courts as opposed to an inherently stalemated Elections Board. As I have said, think WI and PA are total jokes. MI is different, for several reasons at root level, but no idea how the applicable courts will view them. Of the three Stein prongs, this is the only really/potentially fascinating one. I  was not convinced Stein would ever get here but, stunningly, she has. We shall see how it plays out. If real total hand count, then something, at least halfway useful, will result from Stein’s folly. I hope so.

        • Anon says:

          I am not surprised that they would make that argument.  Paper ballots can jam on retabulation and running equipment with a whole bunch of observers is just a pain.  Even if you do rerun the machines you then have to justify that those machines are clean.  Then you rerun on another etc.  In essence it would be a bit of a joke.

          A hand recount is, of course, error prone in its own way, but it is a process that all of the clerks and the observers understand and, once it is done, there will be little reason to keep arguing.

  4. Asker says:

    I have been studying elections for a long time. Am I the only one who remembers that time when votes were transferred out of state to be counted on machines where the data is proprietary and Ken Lay was involved… and/or the work of Greg Palast with Robert F Kennedy, Jr.  The differences between changing the votes, not counting the votes, not counting provisional votes– one kind of problem  Another kind: eliminating both names, for example Jose Paolo Ruiz and Jose Manuel Ruiz  as being one person voting twice.  This is the millions voting twice that we hear about. And finally there is the gerrymandering of districts.  I haven’t noticed anyone writing to these issues here.  My state, New Mexico after many scandals is now one of only two states that has paper ballots.

     

     

    • bevin says:

      You are exactly right. The system is so open to abuse that it is reasonable to assume that, if it ever becomes important enough, elections will be rigged.

      After all every election in the United States between 1876 and 1968 was unquestionably, and openly rigged. The Democratic Party’s origins in the Solid South and urban machines testify to the centrality of election rigging in US history.

      Not to take the simple and obvious steps needed to bring the possibility if fairness to elections is inexplicable.

      Those who dismiss the problem because much is made of the tiny problem of impersonation in order to justify vote deterrence measures are missing the forest for the trees.

      The problem is that finessing a corrupt system has become the stock in trade of the political class: from demagogy to influence peddling to the sort of chairmanship we saw in the Nevada caucus to miscounting to losing electoral lists to putting ‘provisional’ ballots aside, breaking the spirit of the law is what they do.

       

        • bevin says:

          Paper ballots filled out by hand, counted publicly by hand. A uniform law on eligibility to vote. An end to the Electoral College. Non partisan districting commissions with electoral districts based upon geographically defined communities. Strict limits on expenditure. I am quite certain that if a tenth as much energy was put into campaigns to make elections fairer as is put into attempts to prevent them from reflecting popular wishes it would be very easy to come up with legislation which 8 out of 10 Americans would support.

          Politicians looking for programme ideas might want to consider that.

  5. John Casper says:

    bevin, you wrote, “After all every election in the United States between 1876 and 1968 was unquestionably, and openly rigged.”

    So, all the elections before 1868 were fair–despite the 3/5’s compromise that prevented slaves from voting?

    Do you have a link to support your claim about elections from 1876 and 1968? Are you restricting that to federal elections or did you mean to include state and local?

    IIRC election fraud was at the center of the Shootout at the OK Corral (1881) and the Lincoln County War (1878). In both jurisdiction–lawful–was in doubt.

  6. bevin says:

    “So, all the elections before 1868 were fair–despite the 3/5’s compromise that prevented slaves from voting?..”
    Not at all. That is not my position.

    “Do you have a link to support your claim about elections from 1876 and 1968? Are you restricting that to federal elections or did you mean to include state and local?”
    No link, Just an assertion that no historian would be likely to question. And, yes, I am talking of Federal elections.

  7. Gio says:

    The tendered reason in the MI recount opposition case, that Stein, with one percent of the vote has no legitimate reason to seek a recount, is vacant, because, Stein, whose Green Party could be seen to be reaping a harvest from revulsion to Sanders’ volte face, and could reasonably expect a substantial boost for that, from voters opting to not vote for either major option, or a conservative Libertarian, had reason to anticipate that blowback to raise her percentage over, or very close to, the 5% needed to become a “recognized party”.

    It is not unreasonable for Stein, and all Greens, to wonder if votes for Stein were viewed as runaways, escaped from Sanders’ herding, really belonging to Hillary, and so “reasonable” to “herded” back into the Democratic column via machine adjustment.

    Greens, naturally fragmentary as they are, should all be behind Stein’s efforts to demand recount, and expanding it to the major Democratic majority states, where even more disaffection Green voting would have been expectable.

    The situation is, or should, or could, be, a windfall to the Greens, and all third-party movements:  Get one through the door and the ball would be rolling.

    • bmaz says:

      Hey Gio, thanks for joining in tonight! And welcome to our blog. I honestly have no idea as to what to make of your run on first paragraph above, can you restate and or elaborate on that?

  8. Gio says:

    Reply system here does not work. To make sense of first paragraph of my remark, change Sander’s volte face to Sander’s reversal of himself and remove the coma between major option and or a conservative, to make the sentence words familiar and smooth reading. It says Greens should come closer than 1% to the 5% required for recognition for the election year’s unusual circumstances.

    The other remark response, about U.S. legal system systemic corruption, I will not try to reply to. Review what the Kennedys Justice Dept. went after, what RK was assassinated for specifically, who owned Cuba and owning the U.S. has had it punishing the island for. And sit in any district/municipal/traffic court, down where representation is not a norm and watch and listen. Follow courses of assessment to contempt for non-pay to warrant to warraant-imprisonment for the imposed debt cycles. It is how municipalities finance themselves. Victims are not all minority, but they are almost all sans-cullottes poor. The least able to afford, themost victimized, the least competent to self-defend.

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