Amherst attorney: Presidential election recounts should be mandatory
Lost in the debate over the value of recounting votes in this month’s presidential election and over President-Elect Donald Trump’s unfounded Twitter claims of “serious voter fraud” is the question of whether election auditing in this country should be routine, says an area attorney who suggested recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein.
Source: RICHIE DAVIS
John Bonifaz, the Amherst constitutional attorney with Conway connections who is president of the pro-democracy organization Free Speech for Free People, was among a group of computer scientists and attorneys who held a conference call with Clinton campaign officials nine days after the Nov. 8 election pointing to evidence that results in the three states may have been manipulated.
Clinton, who won the popular election by more than 2 million votes but lost all three states — leaving her with 248 electoral votes to Trump’s 290 — showed no interest in a recount, but that changed this weekend after Stein announced that her campaign would seek recounts.
“When we go onto a plane to fly somewhere, we expect there to be safety checks, we expect double- and triple-checking of all parts of the plane before it takes off,” said Bonifaz. “When we deposit money in a bank, we expect there to be auditing of records and ensuring the bank is properly depositing funds where they should go. But we hold elections in this country and rely on machine tallies on election night to tell us who won and lost and then we’re told to move on and there’s no verification process whatsoever. Ultimately, I hope through this process we will see a new push for mandatory audits of our elections throughout the country whenever they happen.”
Bonifaz, who was lead counsel in a 2004 recount effort in Ohio and says he was first contacted two days after this year’s contest by election attorneys raising questions about anomalies in results, said there were particular alarms about attempts at foreign interference in this election: an FBI-confirmed Russian cyber-attack, with 200,000 Illinois voter registration files copied, and the Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee emails, also confirmed by the FBI.
“With all that was swirling around our elections before the election, that led to the highest level of concern at the U.S. government, why in the world would we not engage in verifying the vote?” asked Bonifaz. “This is the basic process of a functioning democracy, and that’s what’s being engaged in now in the three states with the closest margins, where every poll showed a different result than what occurred on Election Day.”
Trump’s lead in Michigan, as certified by the state Monday, was 10,704 votes, in Wisconsin by 22,177 votes, and in Pennsylvania, 70,638 votes.
He noted that there are different explanations for what occurred, including that voters who did not respond to polls or lied and turned out in large numbers to vote, but said it’s also possible that there were either miscounts or manipulations.
In Wisconsin, the vote in touch-screen jurisdictions showed a higher support level for Trump than where paper ballots were used, which Bonifaz said could represent a different demographic there, “or something else that regards compromising of our elections. We have to determine which is true. A recount will help show that.”
The 85,000 Michigan votes counted as blanks in the presidential vote for president is 36,000 greater than ever in the state’s voting history, he said, and while it may truly represent how many voters were dissatisfied with any of the candidates, a recount will determine whether the ballots were truly left blank or whether optical scanners simply didn’t record where the oval was marked with an X or was circled. “Even those were legitimate votes.”
A recount there would rule out “benign malfunction or an intentional hack,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, the vast majority of voters use paperless electronic voting machines, which Bonifaz said are proven to be vulnerable to being hacked. Leading computer scientists around the country say they should not be used, that they’re untrustworthy,” and only a forensic analysis can determine whether there’s been tampering.
“At a bare minimum, we ought to engage in examining the machines,” Bonifaz said.
In addition, Bonifaz noted, an early-morning incident with North Carolina’s electronic system for checking in voters led some voters to mistakenly be told they’d already cast ballots, shutting the system down and raising questions about whether that system — managed by a private Florida-based voting system company that had its equipment hacked earlier — was also subject to hacking or whether it was a “benign malfunction,” said Bonifaz. “This is the process we should be engaging in if we’re a functioning democracy. Public trust in the integrity of our elections is the bedrock principle of our democracy, and we cannot ensure public trust if we never look at the ballots and we never verify the results.”
Asked whether the damage to the nation’s post-election stability outweighs the likelihood recounts won’t change the outcome — something Clinton’s campaign says seems unlikely but which Bonifaz says can’t be prejudged — the lawyer said “certainly.”
“There were plenty of people who predicted a different result in this election than what happened, so if that’s just as implausible, based on every prediction that was being made, why is it so implausible that the election was compromised? We ought to exhaust every effort to eliminate that as an explanation before we say it’s likely or not. I think we always have to verify the vote before we know who’s won the election.”
Bonifaz believes in the need for verification regardless of who is declared the winner, and that candidates should refrain from conceding elections quickly until an audit can be completed.
Trump responded to Clinton’s announcement that she would participate in a recount, charging in one of numerous tweets, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” and later charged, without evidence, “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”
Bonifaz said, “Mr. Trump has alleged that there were 3 million people who voted illegally. If that’s true, he should want to do a recount as well. We ought to determine whether that happened, and the recount process will show that. I don’t understand how he can make that charge — I don’t think there’s any basis for it — and at the same time say the recount process is silly. If we had a process … mandatory audits all across the country, these kinds of charges could not just be made out there without any further investigation. That’s exactly why we should be doing these recounts.”
He said all recounts need to be completed by Dec. 13 to resolve any court controversies before the Electoral College is scheduled to meet on Dec. 19. A Michigan recount, according to the Associated Press, could not even begin until March 12.
But Bonifaz added, “I don’t understand why we would allow electors to be chosen for the Electoral College in a state when we haven’t properly verified the vote.”
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