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Federal judge orders Michigan presidential recount to begin at noon

The largest vote recount in Michigan’s history has been ordered to begin this afternoon at noon.

Very early this morning, federal judge Mark Goldsmith ordered the state to, “cease any delay in the commencement of the recount of the presidential vote cast in Michigan as of noon…”

Goldsmith’s ruling comes after Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein requested an immediate recount in Michigan on Friday.

State law says a recount must not begin until two business days after the Board of State Canvassers rules - which happened Friday. That set the recount to begin on late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

But, after hearing testimony in a rare, hastily scheduled hearing yesterday, Judge Goldsmith noted in his written opinion that waiting those two days likely violates voting rights.

Concerns over logistics of the recount and its cost were also brought up in court but, Judge Goldsmith argued, “with the perceived integrity of the presidential election as it was conducted in Michigan at stake, concerns with cost pale in comparison.”

But, we will watch to see over the next few hours whether or not Michigan Republicans, or President-elect Donald Trump, appeal Judge Goldsmith’s decision to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Also, we’ll be watching to see what happens in separate lawsuits filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.

But, let’s say there was an appeal. Let’s even say that the Court of Appeals overturned Judge Goldsmith’s opinion. Well, the recount would, barring more legal action, begin again tomorrow evening or Wednesday - simply reverting back to that initial two-day waiting period in state law.

Which still means we are looking at hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, lawyers, Republicans, Democrats, and party activists descending onto various halls and conference and expo centers to begin the first ever presidential recount in Michigan. The scale of which will be unprecedented.

There have been statewide recounts before but they were decades and decades ago. The 1950s and ‘60s. When Michigan’s population was smaller - thus, fewer votes to count.

In testimony yesterday, Chris Thomas, Michigan’s Elections Director, pushed to use a hand-vote method recount of the 4.9 million ballots, rather than just using machines.

Remember, these machines, and the way they worked – or didn’t - is the central reason Stein’s campaign is pushing for a recount in the first place.

Stein says this recount isn’t about changing the results of the election - certainly not in her favor, as she only got 1 percent of the vote - and not in the favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton, either.

No, Stein says, this is about Michigan’s system of voting. This is about the integrity of the election, she argues. Something Trump himself - with talk of a rigged system - alluded to during the campaign.

Which, just goes to show, one’s view of whether an election was fair often depends an awful lot on one’s view of who won. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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