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Ottawa, Allegan county clerks wrap up thwarted recount

By Caleb Whitmer/The Holland Sentinel • Dec 8, 2016 at 10:15 PM

One-hundred fifty-one. That's how many precincts, out of 202, that Ottawa County election workers got through before the powers that be pulled the plug on Michigan's statewide presidential recount.

So how will the recount affect the official results of the November general election?

"It's as if it never happened," Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck said of the recount.

Two days into the statewide recount, a federal judge declared Wednesday that Green Party candidate Jill Stein was not eligible to seek a recount of the more than 4.8 million votes cast in the presidential election on Nov. 8.

At the time of the ruling, Ottawa County was well over halfway done. Allegan County had completely finished its own recount.

Ottawa County's incomplete results gave 53 more votes to President-elect Donald Trump, 11 to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and nine to Stein, as well as small additions to the other candidates.

Roebuck explained that even that small discrepancy originates in a quirk of elections law. If someone votes straight party, but then writes in an unapproved presidential candidate, that person's vote goes to the candidate of the party they otherwise voted for.

"This process has to happen manually because there is no way for the ballot tabulators to determine validity of write-ins," Roebuck said.

In other words, the discrepancy reflects those manual changes, Roebuck said, not machine error.

In Allegan County, Trump added 35 votes, Clinton 10 and Stein two. The county's election workers were able to wrap up their recount in one day of work — the same day, it turned out, that the recount would be canceled.

"(The recount) has ceased," Allegan County Deputy Clerk Jason Watts said. "It doesn't look like it will be brought back up. (Stein's) only hope is the Michigan Supreme Court, and that is controlled by Republicans."

An appeal to the conservative-majority high court is Stein's last option to see the recount through.

Unprecedented in Michigan history, the recount was at first framed by Stein as a means of fixing fraud suffered by her candidacy. Her lawyers later said they were pursuing the multi-million-dollar endeavor to ensure the voting system's integrity.

In the end, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith decided Stein's lawyers did not have enough evidence to prove either that Stein herself was victimized in the election or that there was any other widespread fraud. Goldsmith was the same judge who ordered the recount begin on Monday, Dec. 5, in a decision given just after midnight that day.

Legal battles over the recount over the last week and a half often left local election workers in the lurch. Once it had started, Roebuck said he would have liked to see the recount through.

"Especially because we were so close," Roebuck said.

Ottawa County's recount, held at the county headquarters in West Olive, filled a large conference room with 50 people recounting at a time. Also in the room were poll challengers, campaign officials, lawyers and spectators. Allegan County's mirror event was held at the Allegan High School.

At the time of her request, Stein agreed to pay more than $900,000 — $125 per precinct — to initiate the recount. How counties will be reimbursed for the work they did is still up in the air.

At $125 per precinct, Ottawa County would be owed just under $19,000. Allegan County is due about $8,000 for its 61 recounted precincts. The state government has asked the counties to work out all their expenses related to the recount and submit them.

"Friday we will be crunching the numbers," Watts said.

Roebuck praised the election workers, as well as the staff of his own office, for the hours they put into the recount over the past few days.

"We are ready to get back to normal," he said.

In the end, the recount's meaning remains obscure, Watts said, noting that Michigan counties will be replacing their voting equipment next year.

"It validated that the old machines, that we are getting rid of, still do a pretty darn good job for the most part," Watts said. "I'm not sure what else we proved other than the equipment that we are getting rid of still works."

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