Nate Silver Defends The Recounts Advocated By Jill Stein


It is doubtful that the recounts which Jill Stein has pushed for in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania will change the election results. Despite this, Nate Silver has made the following case as to why this is beneficial, calling it more of an audit than a true recount:

The first proviso: Let’s not call it a “recount,” because that’s not really what it is. It’s not as though merely counting the ballots a second or third time is likely to change the results enough to overturn the outcome in three states. An apparent win by a few dozen or a few hundred votes might be reversed by an ordinary recount. But Donald Trump’s margins, as of this writing, are roughly 11,000 votes in Michigan, 23,000 votes in Wisconsin and 68,000 votes in Pennsylvania. There’s no precedent for a recount overturning margins like those or anything close to them. Instead, the question is whether there was a massive, systematic effort to manipulate the results of the election.

So what we’re talking about is more like an audit or an investigation. An investigation that would look for signs of deliberate and widespread fraud, such as voting machines’ having been hacked, whole batches of ballots’ intentionally having been disregarded, illegal coordination between elections officials and the campaigns, and so on. Such findings would probably depend on physical evidence as much or more than they do statistical evidence. In that sense, there’s no particular reason to confine the investigation to Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania, the states that Hillary Clinton lost (somewhat) narrowly. If the idea is to identify some sort of smoking gun indicating massive fraud perpetrated by the Trump campaign — or by the Clinton campaign, or by the Russian government — it might be in a state Clinton won, such as New Hampshire or Minnesota. Or for that matter, it might be in a state Trump won fairly easily, like Ohio or Iowa.

A second “condition” is that the burden of proof for claims of a fixed election ought to be high. That’s because there’s enough evidence for there to be a clear presumption against theories of massive vote-rigging…

In many ways, undertaking an audit of the election results is tantamount to performing a test for a rare but potentially fatal disease. You want to weigh the probability of successfully detecting an anomaly against the invasiveness of the procedure and the chance of a false positive result. Oftentimes, the risk outweighs the reward. For instance, many experts warn against mammograms for women in their 40s because the underlying risk of breast cancer is low for women of that age and the rate of false positive tests is high, causing undue stress for the patients and subjecting them to further tests and operations that might be harmful.

What are the costs of an election audit? Running them will cost several million dollars, but that’s fairly trivial in an era of billion-dollar campaigns. Instead, since these audits aren’t routine — although maybe they should be — the cost is mostly that they could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the election and the longstanding norm toward uncontentious transitions of power from one president toward the next. Which might be more persuasive … if Trump hadn’t spent the weekend peddling a conspiracy about how he thought the results were rigged in Clinton’s favor because millions of people had voted illegally…

Ultimately, though, I’m in the information business. An audit very probably won’t detect a conspiracy, but it will reveal information about our voting systems. FiveThirtyEight and most other American news organizations are founded on the premise that more information is better, even if it risks being misinterpreted. I’ve never questioned that premise more than I have over the course of this election. But over the next four years, we’re all going to have to get used to an environment in which nuggets of insight come buried in mounds of misinformation. An audit is as good a place as any to start.

Plus there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Donald Trump get upset over the recounts after he has claimed before the election that the election was rigged, and more recently claimed that he was only denied a victory in the popular vote due to voter fraud. Bernie Sanders called this claim “disgraceful and unfounded nonsense.”

One thing we are learning is that there are road blocks interfering with the recounts. The most complicated of the three is Pennsylvania where Stein is both filing suit and trying to obtain a recount through a rather complicated procedure:

To initiate a statewide recount through the courts, the Stein campaign must sufficiently prove that there was a strong probability of election fraud in Pennsylvania.

But with that high bar for the Stein campaign to meet, the campaign is also hoping to initiate a recount through another route, with Pennsylvania voters in every precinct submitting affidavits to their precinct clerks asking for recounts in their respective precincts. So far, the Stein campaign said, they had successfully gotten 100 precincts to make the requests — a fraction of the necessary 9,163 voting precincts.

Further complicating the effort, the Pennsylvania Department of State noted that some of the precincts are in counties that had finished certifying their election results, closing the five-day window for petitioning precincts to hold recounts.

Stein is also filing suit in Wisconsin after the Wisconsin Elections Commission refused the hand recount she requested.

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  1. 1
    Mike Hatcher says:

    Nate Silver's article was excellent, it reads a lot like ones that you write.  He didn't plagiarize from you did he? Anyway, thanks Ron, I know there are a lot of news stories out there and you can't post them all, I feel like you picked this one just for me and my expressed interest in the recount/audit.  Even if no problems are uncovered, it will help validate the system. And OH the fun we would have if we found even one vote cast by an undocumented alien in favor of Trump. In reality, if the Al Franken voter investigation is any indication, the "undocumented" voter is basically non-existent, we have far more posthumous voters and ones that technically are disqualified for having a criminal record. 

  2. 2
    SocraticGadfly says:

    A majority of the Green Party's executive committee, though, does NOT defend the recounts, not with the current states being recounted, and other issues. More here on my blog post:

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I picked this as the recounts was one of the major political stories of the previous few days, other than depressing stories on Trump’s appointees, which were being covered quite a bit elsewhere. It is certainly possible that the interest you expressed on this story in the comments could have affected the degree I thought of it when deciding what to post on. I did like including Silver’s article as it provides a more mainstream justification for Stein’s actions. While Stein’s supporters probably couldn’t care less whether Silver approved, more establishment Democratic voters might be swayed by his view.

  4. 4
    Jim says:

    Who gives a monkeys ass what Nate Silver thinks!! I voted Green for Stein now her actions are casting a shadow over an otherwise growing third party. 

  5. 5
    Mike Hatcher says:

    Ron: I guess Jim emphatically made your point about Stein supporters opinion of Nate Silver.

  6. 6
    Pamela Twining says:

    i voted for Jill and i do Get her rationale for seeking the ''recounts", which she has discussed as an audit… interestingly, i read today that now Republicans are questioning the count in the Detroit area, because the #s don't match up, which is the precise reason MI declined to review those votes… a law being on the books requiring those #s to match before a review will be done… our electoral system is so flawed and people are just being hipped to it by this election cycle… thanks for your insightful posts, Ron! making me feel less like a tinfoil hat crazy person…

  7. 7
    Mike Hatcher says:

    Pamela, you may be right about why Michigan refused to review votes, I don't know about those rules. However, the recount was quashed by a judge because Jill did not have standing. Presumably if Hillary had demanded the recount, she would have had standing, but Hillary is one that prefers to let surrogates do things for her rather than doing things herself. That is another less than admirable trait she has among a long list of less than admirable traits.

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