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US election 2016: Could recounts change result?

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-Agency reports

Thanks to the efforts of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, a recount of presidential ballots is about to get under way in several key states won by Donald Trump in America’s general election.
Could this process reveal evidence of election fraud or even hand the presidency to Hillary Clinton? That seems highly unlikely. But it hasn’t prevented some considered thought, more than a bit of wild speculation and a Sunday Twitter tirade by the next US president.
Here’s everything you need to know about the presidential election drama that just doesn’t want to end.
Which states are involved?
The Green Party-backed recount efforts are focused on three states that Mr Trump won – Wisconsin (by 22,177 votes), Michigan (10,704 votes) and Pennsylvania (71,313 votes).
Last week Ms Stein began an online drive to raise the necessary funds to move forward with the process, as all three states require the petitioning party to pay for the recounts. So far, she has raised more than $6m (£4.8m) – which should cover the cost and then some (this has led liberal commentator Joshua Marshall to suggest that the whole undertaking is a money-raising “publicity stunt” for the Green Party).
On Friday, Ms Stein formally requested the procedure in Wisconsin. County officials across the state will choose whether to hand count all the ballots or once again run them through their tabulation machines. Ms Stein has said she will sue to force all ballots to be hand-counted.
On Monday the Green Party began the recount process for Pennsylvania. The deadline to request a recount in Michigan is Wednesday.
The three states account for 46 votes in the Electoral College, more than enough to tip the election to Mrs Clinton if they moved from Mr Trump’s column to hers.
According to federal law, all recounts have to be concluded within 35 days of the election.
Will it change anything?
If Clinton supporters are working through their post-election grief, the millions of dollars that have poured in for recount efforts show that many are still firmly in the denial stage.
For Ms Clinton to be declared the victor would require a swing of more than 100,000 votes across the three states – a move that would dwarf all previous recount results.
A Green Party-requested effort in Ohio in 2004 resulted in Democrat John Kerry netting a grand total of 285 votes more than President George W Bush, for instance. The infamous Florida recount battle of 2000 involved shifts in the vote count measuring in the hundreds.
Even Ms Stein concedes that the recounts will not likely alter this election’s outcome.
“These recounts are part of an election integrity movement to attempt to shine a light on just how untrustworthy the US election system is,” she wrote on her website.
There’s also the possibility that the recount, while not affecting enough votes to help Mrs Clinton, could reveal that the results were tampered with, possibly by foreign hackers. Although the Obama administration has said that there is no evidence to support this, there are indications that Russian-based hackers had probed voter databases in Arizona and Illinois earlier this year and were responsible for releasing private emails from high-level Democratic Party and Clinton campaign officials.
According to J Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, that’s more than enough reason to support Ms Stein’s recount efforts.
“Examining the physical evidence in these states  -  even if it finds nothing amiss  –  will help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate,” he writes on the website Medium. “It will also set a precedent for routinely examining paper ballots, which will provide an important deterrent against cyber attacks on future elections.”
Of course, that doesn’t really explain why Ms Stein is requesting a recount in Pennsylvania – where getting any kind of a meaningful information will be difficult.
Why is Pennsylvania different?
Unlike Wisconsin and Michigan, most of Pennsylvania’s voting machines leave no paper trail – so there’s nothing physical to count.
One voting expert told the Los Angeles Times that a Pennsylvania recount would be a “nightmare scenario” requiring each of the state’s 1980s-era voting machines to be individually accessed and their results retabulated.
The relatively archaic nature of the Pennsylvania machines does have a benefit, however. Given that they are not connected to the internet, they would have to be individually hacked in order to alter their results – a daunting task for the most enterprising meddler.
Even the process for obtaining a recount in Pennsylvania is cumbersome. Unlike Wisconsin and Michigan, the requests have to be filed on a precinct-by-precinct level with at least three voters in each delivering notarised affidavits to their local election clerk.
There are 9,163 precincts in Pennsylvania, and as of Monday afternoon the Stein campaign reported that it had completed requests in “more than 100” locations – a proverbial drop in the bucket given the margin of Mr Trump’s victory in the state.
What is the Clinton campaign’s position?
The Clinton team made headlines this weekend when it announced that it would co-operate with Ms Stein’s recount efforts.
That only means the Clinton campaign will ensure it has representatives in any legal proceedings arising from the recount and observers on hand during the process.
“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,” Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Erik Elias wrote in a Medium post.
If there’s one thing the impending recounts have revealed, it’s that post-election Donald Trump will behave largely like pre-election Donald Trump – quick to take to Twitter to air grievances and settle perceived slights.
On Sunday he fired off a series of tweets accusing the Green Party of staging the recount to “fill up their coffers” and condemning Mrs Clinton for reneging on her election night concession and promise to accept the results.
He closed by alleging that his loss to Mrs Clinton in the total popular vote tabulations was due to “millions of people who voted illegally” and that there was “serious voter fraud” in three states that Mrs Clinton carried – Virginia, New Hampshire and California.
Does he have any evidence to back up those charges?
No.
On Monday Trump spokesman Jason Miller cited a 2014 Washington Post study that has been widely criticised and a Pew Center report that found discrepancies in voter registration databases – but no concrete evidence that they led to voting fraud.
-BBC

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