World·Analysis

Donald Trump is wrong about 'millions' of illegal voters, but he might be right about a recount

Donald Trump, who falsely claimed that "millions" of illegal voters robbed him of a victory in the national popular vote, may be right about one thing with regard to the push for recounts: Green Party Leader Jill Stein's motivations.

The president-elect now questions the integrity of the election he won

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, left, has claimed without evidence that he would have won the national popular vote because 'millions' of voters cast ballots illegally. A campaign for a recount in three key swing states is being undertaken by Jill Stein, right, leader of the Green Party. (Reuters)

President-elect Donald Trump, who falsely claimed that "millions" of illegal voters robbed him of a victory in the national popular vote, may be right about at least one thing amid a costly push for recounts in three key swing states.

The voting audit — first filed in Wisconsin on Friday, then in Pennsylvania on Monday and possibly later this week in Michigan — will likely have no impact on the results of the presidential election.

What it will do, as Trump asserts, is give a big financial lift to Green Party Leader Jill Stein, who is initiating the ballot audits following reports by computer analysts who alleged anomalies with electronic voting machines.

"Trump is utterly incorrect regarding claims that there are ... millions of illegal votes and that there's massive voter fraud," says Geoffrey Skelley, who edits the political newsletter Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

But, Skelley adds, "Trump could be right about Stein's motivations" for pushing for this recount. 

"This is an opportunity to raise a lot of money that [she] doesn't necessarily need to use all for the recount, and for Stein to gain more attention."

Estimated filing and attorney fees for the recount, according to Stein, would be between $6 and $7 million dollars. She has already raked in close to $6 million, which far exceeds the $3.5 million she raised during her entire presidential campaign, according to a campaign finance report.

Democrat Hillary Clinton is not challenging Trump's victory, but her campaign's general counsel said the Clinton camp would support formal recounts to "ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides." 

Green Party Leader Dr. Jill Stein speaks at a rally in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016, during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

On Monday, Pennsylvania became the second of the three states to receive notice to formalize steps for a recount. Clinton's campaign will likely now join that effort as well.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump slammed the audit campaign as a "Green Party scam to fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts."

He also wrote on Sunday: "So much time and money will be spent — same result! Sad."

The margins do appear insurmountable.

Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias has no illusions about whether a recount could change the overall outcome of the presidential election. It's a very slim possibility. Clinton would need to win all three states to do so, but she lost by 69,000 votes in Pennsylvania and 27,000 votes in Wisconsin.

In a post on the blogging platform Medium, Elias noted that the 11,000-vote deficit in Michigan — the closest race of the three swing states now in dispute — still "well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount."

On Monday, electoral officials said Trump had won Michigan's 16 electoral votes.

The White House as well as Clinton's campaign have publicly agreed that they have seen no evidence that voting systems were hacked.

Trump nevertheless slammed the Democrats for getting involved.

No-win situation

Elias characterized the effort as a no-win situation: "We are getting attacked for participating in a recount that we didn't ask for by the man who won [the] election but thinks there was massive fraud."

That the Clinton campaign was not interested in pursuing a recount may be an indicator of what her team thinks of her odds of overcoming such large deficits.

Meanwhile, money continues to flow into the recount campaign, despite it being "unbelievably unlikely" it will make a lick of difference, says Skelley.

"Even if you could somehow find that there were large irregularities in Wisconsin and Michigan, you still have Pennsylvania, where Trump's edge is the largest, even by percentage," Skelley says. (Trump won Pennsylvania by about 1.2 percentage points.)

That does not diminish the "absurdity" of another claim Trump made in a barrage of tweets on Sunday, Skelley says.

If Trump's contradictory logic is to be believed, he won by "millions" in the popular vote, even as he casts doubt on the legitimacy of the very election that named him president.

Voters line up on election day in Woodstock, N.H. Trump alleged Sunday, without supporting evidence, that New Hampshire was one of three states where widespread voter fraud occurred. (Jim Cole/The Associated Press)

Trump's line of reasoning is as follows: He won and insists America should have confidence in that outcome, yet he also says his opponents cheated on a widespread scale with illegal ballots.

"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," he posted to Twitter at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, as part of an 12-tweet thread on the social media website.

Four hours later, he alleged in another unfounded post there was "serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California." 

Neither claim was substantiated. Tallies of the popular vote put Clinton ahead with 2.24 million votes, and rising, though Trump won the election by winning the electoral college on the night of Nov. 8-9.

Including Michigan, Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton's 232. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes win the White House.

Trump's baseless allegation was dismissed across party lines.

Asked by CNN on Monday about voting irregularities, Republican senator James Lankford of Oklahoma responded, "I don't know what he was talking about on that one."

Lankford said he had "not seen any voting irregularity on the millions," though he believed there might be "some on the edges," just not to the extent Trump purports.

In response to Trump's allegations, the independent journalism outlet ProPublica described in a Twitter thread why it was confident there was no widespread voter fraud.

The non-profit newsroom put together a consortium of 400 media partners nationwide, calling the project Electionland, and monitored possible voter irregularities and disruptions on election night. While Electionland found "plenty of problems" including long lines, broken machines and incorrect poll books, there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Amid the recount drama, Trump on Monday was continuing to hold a series of meetings to fill key cabinet positions. He will need to fill 4,000 positions in his new administration before assuming the Oval Office on Jan. 20.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Kwong

Reporter

Matt Kwong was the Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong

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