The recount is shaping up to be a huge source of media attention and fundraising for Stein, who barely registered on the national radar during the election. But, ironically, an initiative that has endeared Stein to some of the Democrats who once scorned her is upsetting many of the Green Party leaders who were her most loyal supporters.
Mainly, they question Stein’s choice of states and what they say is her willingness to work with ― and serve the interests of ― Democrats.
Andrea Merida Cuellar, co-chair of the national Green Party, argues that recounts in states like Texas ― where a Green Party railroad commissioner candidate narrowly missed the 5 percent threshold needed to secure the party 2018 ballot access ― would have been more important for the party as a whole.
“This doesn’t really help us in our party-building efforts, in state party building,” Merida said.
Merida also believes the party should have higher priorities when it comes to restoring integrity to the voting process. She cites as an example the implementation of ranked choice voting, a process gaining traction in some states and cities.
“We have a whole slate of things we need to focus on to make sure that the next time somebody runs, we have a strong state party network to support that candidacy,” Merida said.
Kevin Zeese, a senior adviser to Stein’s campaign, longtime Green Party activist and former political candidate, echoed Merida’s sentiments.
“There are many other election integrity issues. A lot of them are at the registration and preventing people from voting levels that have a massive effect on the outcome,” Zeese said.
Zeese also worries that recounts that simply reprocess the ballots through optical scanners or electronic voting machines, rather than recounting them manually, will not expose issues inherent in the electronic voting process.
A Wisconsin judge ruled on Tuesday night that the Stein campaign could not compel Wisconsin counties to recount all ballots by hand. Forty-seven of the Badger State’s 72 counties have nonetheless chosen to count them by hand, and an additional 13 counties will use a combination of manual counting and optical scanners.
In Michigan, which uses only paper ballots counted by optical scanners, a pending recount will be done entirely by hand. But Zeese is discouraged by the level of Democratic Party involvement in that effort, which raises his doubts that it will be conducted with complete integrity.
Mark Brewer, for example, an attorney Stein has hired to represent the recount effort in Michigan, is a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
LuAnne Kozma, campaign director of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan and a Green Party activist, pointed out several other Democratic Party-affiliated figures involved in the Michigan recount effort in a widely circulated email condemning the recount.
“We had a good crew of hard-working volunteers. We built the party,” Kozma wrote, referring to Green Party election efforts. “Now this
news is devastating us and we’ve been completely sidelined and blindsided.”
Even Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, is opposed to the effort.
“It would be seen as carrying the water for the Democrats,” Baraka told CNN on Tuesday.
Stein shocked the political world last week when she announced an effort to crowd-fund recounts in the closely fought battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The Michigan recount was scheduled to begin Friday until the Trump campaign objected, arguing that, as a fourth-place finisher in the state, Stein cannot be considered “‘aggrieved’ by any alleged fraud or mistake.” The recount is now on hold, and Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers will consider the objection on Friday.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the Department of State is estimating that voters have petitioned for recounts in over 200 precincts in counties across the state. Counties, which have the discretion to accept these requests, are now assessing them.
No candidate is legally entitled to finance a statewide recount in Pennsylvania unless they demonstrate that there was illegal activity in the way the election was conducted. The Stein campaign is contesting the Pennsylvania election with a lawsuit in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court and has a hearing scheduled for Monday morning.
Although Stein faces accusations of suckering disgruntled Clinton voters to enhance her brand and raise funds for unrelated purposes, her decision to pick the three states that narrowly cost Clinton the election appears to have captured some Democrats’ imaginations. Stein, who received no more than 1 percent of the vote in each of the three states, surprised many observers by shattering her $2 million fundraising goal within hours of launching the crowd-funding campaign last week.
Stein has since increased its goal several times, citing Wisconsin state officials’ higher estimates of the cost of a recount and other unforeseen expenses. Thus far the campaign has raised $6.8 million of its latest $9.5 million goal.
For its part, the Wisconsin Elections Commission maintains that its estimate of $3.5 million was its first real projection and that any previous figures put forward were based loosely on the cost of past recounts.
Stein denies that the recount is about anything other than authenticating the results, however.
“Verifying the vote through this recount is the only way to confirm that every vote has been counted securely and accurately and is not compromised by machine or human error, or by tampering or hacking,” Stein said in a statement. “The recount does not benefit one candidate over another. It benefits all voters across the political spectrum. This is an essential first step to restore confidence in our elections and trust in our democracy.”
In the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania recount petitions, as grounds for concerns about electronic vote tampering, Stein cites the analysis of University of Michigan data scientist J. Alex Halderman and the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Stein also mentioned the disconnect between most pre-election polling and election results.
The Stein campaign’s press staff did not respond to requests for comment on the specific criticism of Green Party leaders.
In addition to practical concerns with a recount seemingly tailored to solicit Democratic support, Stein’s Green Party critics have ideological concerns about the collaboration with Democrats.
For instance, the Wisconsin petition and Pennsylvania lawsuit’s references to the possible involvement of the Russian government in election tampering due to its alleged role in the DNC and Podesta email hacks dismayed Merida. She believes the accusations against Russia have yet to be substantiated and are being used to ratchet up tensions between the two countries ― something Stein stood against during her campaign.
“This is a candidate who was in Russia two years ago and was doing this because we are a party of peace,” Merida said. “For her to now say the Russians did it because they supposedly hacked into DNC email servers ― it’s disconcerting to say the least.”
Both Zeese and Merida lament that Stein’s campaign did not solicit the input of top Green Party officials before deciding to go forward.
The campaign presented it to the Green Party steering committee as a “fait accompli,” according to Merida.
“She just did it unilaterally and didn’t talk to people. She could have done New Hampshire or Maine ― small, easy states ― and then it wouldn’t have been about Clinton,” Zeese said.
Neither Zeese nor Merida was willing to question the genuineness of Stein’s motives. But Merida made it clear that the future of the party should not be so tied to Stein’s presidential campaign.
“Jill Stein is not the Green Party. She is simply a member of the Green Party,” Merida said.
“At this point after Election Day, we do have to recalibrate within the Green Party toward the Green Party and away from the Jill Stein campaign,” she added.