Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign for president has confirmed for the first time that it intends taking part in an effort being led by the Green Party to force a recount of votes in Wisconsin and possibly two other states where Donald Trump’s margin of victory was extremely slim.
While the campaign’s decision to jump into the process will tantalise Ms Clinton’s erstwhile supporters, many of whom are still feeling crushed by her loss, the likelihood of it magically making her the rightful winner of the presidential contest remain somewhere between zero and infinitesimally slim. Later on Saturday, Mr Trump called the recount bid "ridiculous" and a "scam".
Writing on Medium, the online publishing platform, the campaign’s chief legal advisor, Marc Elias, said the campaign had decided to participate even though it had found no evidence itself of any hacking of the voting systems in any of the states, as some have suggested.
“Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves, but now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides,” he wrote.
Led by its candidate for president, Jill Stein, the Green Party officially filed a request for a recount of the Wisconsin vote on Friday, saying that reports of voting inconsistencies warranted the unusual move. Hitherto, the Clinton campaign had remained mostly silent on the issue.
But in his post, Mr Elias revealed that the campaign had been conferring behind the scenes with data analysts and scientists about counts in the states where the results were close. They include Michigan and Pennsylvania, which, like Wisconsin, have traditionally voted Democrat in presidential contests. Ms Clinton had been widely expected to prevail in all three.
He indicated that if the Green Party, as is expected, raises sufficient funds to make similar petitions in the other two states, the Clinton campaign would take part in those actions also.
Confirming the filing of the Wisconsin petition on Friday, the co-chairman of the Wisconsin Green Party, George Martin, said he was seeking “reconciliation of paper records” with the votes as currently published, a potentially laborious process involving a new hand-count of all the votes cast, which should get under way next week.
“This is a process, a first step to examine whether our electoral democracy is working,“ Martin said.
The top official with the Wisconsin elections agency, Michael Haas, confirmed later on Friday that the progress for reconciliation would be initiated. “We have assembled an internal team to direct the recount, we have been in close consultation with our county clerk partners, and have arranged for legal representation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”
After expressing concern that the vote may have been manipulated by outside forces in all three states, Ms Stein launched a crowdfunding effort to pay for recounts. As of Saturday, she had attracted $5.8 million of the $7 million needed to cover fees and legal costs for recounts in the three states.
Ms Stein, who must make petitions for the recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan before deadlines pass next week, also said her party has no evidence that any such manipulation took place. “Let me be very clear: We do not have evidence of fraud. We do not have smoking guns. What we do have is an election that was surrounded by hacking,” she wrote on her website.
In a statement released by his transition team, Mr Trump excoriated the Stein-led initiative. "The people have spoken and the election is over, and as Hillary Clinton herself said on election night, in addition to her conceding by congratulating me, 'We must accept this result and then look to the future'," he wrote in his statement.
"This recount is just a way for Jill Stein, who received less than one percent of the vote overall and wasn’t even on the ballot in many states, to fill her coffers with money, most of which she will never even spend on this ridiculous recount. All three states were won by large numbers of voters, especially Pennsylvania, which was won by more than 70,000 votes.
"This is a scam by the Green Party for an election that has already been conceded, and the results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused, which is exactly what Jill Stein is doing."
In Pennsylvania, which has 20 Electoral College votes, Mr Trump in fact won by roughly 68,000 votes, and in Wisconsin, which has ten such votes, his margin was even smaller: just 27,000. Michigan, which carries 14 votes, is still too close to call, with the difference between the two candidates amounting to fewer than 12,000.
“If Jill Stein follows through as she has promised and pursues recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, we will take the same approach in those states as well,” Mr Elias confirmed.
Mr Trump collected 290 Electoral College votes compared to 232 for Ms Clinton. For her to overturn the results, she would need to secure the votes of all three disputed states.
.It is considered highly unlikely that the effort would result in all three of the states flipping from his column to hers, an event that would bring chaos to the presidential transition and spawn an almost certain legal challenge from his side.