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US elections 2016

Recount, 'faithless' electors unlikely to thwart Trump

People who are hoping that two last-minute efforts might deny Donald Trump the presidency are facing likely disappointment. There’s little chance that recounts in key states or "faithless" electors will achieve that.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's push for a recount of the election results in three critical US states threw opponents of Donald Trump a lifeline. That Stein has so far been able to raise more than $6 million (5.7 million euros) fairly easily in a very short time - especially considering that she only raised $3.5 million for her presidential bid - shows the traction behind her effort.

Should a recount of the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania - all of which Trump won - lead to a full reversal of that tally and make Hillary Clinton the victor, it would also sway the Electoral College outcome and make Clinton president.

Key supporters of the recount, such as the University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, have called the potential for hacking grounds for a new tally, but other scholars, including MIT's Charles Stewart, have questioned those claims.

'Infinitesimal' chance

The Clinton team, which has joined the effort, found no grounds to call for a recount in its own analysis, as her counsel detailed in an article on Medium. The Obama administration announced last week that it had no evidence of foul play and believed that the election outcome had reflected "the will of the American people.”        

But, regardless of the merit of those claims, two election law experts approached by DW have one word to describe the likelihood that the recount efforts will prevent Trump from becoming president: "infinitesimal."

Jill Stein (Picture-Alliance/AP Photo/D. R. Cameron)

The Green Party presidential candidate is behind the recount effort in three states

"The chances that Donald Trump will not become the next president are infinitesimal," Joshua Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky, said via email. "The recounts will almost definitely not swing all three states in Clinton's favor."

"The odds of that happening are infinitesimal (next-to-none)," Edward Foley, the director of election law at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, wrote in an email. "Statewide recounts usually change no more than a hundred votes or so, and the tightest margin of the three key states, Michigan, is at last look around 10,000 votes.”

Historically the largest gain in a recount occurred in Florida in 2000, when Al Gore ended up with more than 1,200 additional votes in his race against George W. Bush - which was still not enough to win the state at the time the Supreme Court halted the tally.

To sway the outcome of the election, Clinton would not simply have to overcome a margin of about 10,000 votes in Michigan, but more than 68,000 in Pennsylvania and more than 27,000 in Wisconsin.

Congress has the last word

The second hope for people still looking for a way to keep Trump away from the White House is similarly far-fetched. More than 4.5 million people have signed an online petition urging the Electoral College's electors, who will cast their ballots for president on December 19, to switch their vote and "Make Hillary Clinton President.”

According to the petition, if 149 electors in 14 states won by Trump would switch their votes to Clinton, she would become president. But the likelihood of that happening is remote, the professors said.

"There will not be enough 'faithless' presidential electors who will switch to Clinton," Douglas said. 

There is no historical precedent for such a move, Foley said, and, even if that many electors were to switch their votes, Clinton would still not become president - because "Congress would have to accept the result of electors being faithless."

Congress is scheduled to receive the Electoral College results and then officially declare the winner on January 6.

"As long as the Trump campaign were able to submit to Congress an alternative to the votes of the faithless electors, Congress could choose to accept the Trump submission, rather than the submission on behalf of the faithless electors," Foley said. "It seems highly unlikely that Congress would favor the faithless electors rather than Trump."  

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