Senate Race Shows Recount Futility

Montanans line up to vote in the 2012 general election. (photo courtesy of the Missoulian)

The recount of Wisconsin’s presidential election is facing lawsuit and FEC complaint challenges from Republicans, not because they are afraid it will change the outcome but rather because they consider it pointless. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Madison by Trump supporters Friday argues that the recount violates the constitution because ballots aren’t treated equally in all cases. But others have argued that Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s true goal was to raise money for the Green Party, cast a cloud over the Trump presidency by questioning the integrity of the election or both. The Republican Party of Wisconsin Complaint filed with the FEC makes the case that the Stein campaign illegally coordinated with the Hillary Clinton campaign on the recount.

In a Friday article on the lawsuit, JS Online attempted to equivocate the Stein-led recount to a re-tally taking place in a razor close Wisconsin state senate race. Jason Stein and Patrick Marley share comments from Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers who are considering changes to the recount requirements in the wake of the obviously futile Stein effort. One proposal would limit recounts to races with very thin margins, even when a candidate is willing to foot the bill themselves. The story then includes this:

Republicans make use of the recount as well. For instance, Dan Kapanke, a former GOP senator, is currently using the recount process to confirm whether he really lost his rematch race with Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). That race is much tighter than the presidential race, however.

While Stein and Marley do include the caveat that the Shilling/Kapanke race is much tighter than the presidential race, they don’t say how much tighter. In a race with more than 89,000 votes cast Shilling won on election night by 56 votes, 49.8% to 49.8%; a .1% margin. The threshold for a recount where a candidate doesn’t have to cover the costs is a .25% margin or less. Historically any candidate losing by a margin as narrow as the one in the Shilling/Kapanke contest would request a recount. In fact, the Shilling/Kapanke recount illustrates just how absurd the Wisconsin presidential recount is.

On Friday, Shilling declared victory after still holding a lead at the conclusion of the recount. Unofficial results showed the recount narrowed the gap by a single vote. Shilling now leads Kapanke by 55 votes. Even in a contest where the vote was so close  that the loser didn’t have to pay for the recount, it had virtually no impact on the outcome.

Contrast that with Wisconsin’s presidential race.  Donald Trump received 47.2% of the vote compared with 46.4 for Hillary Clinton. That’s a margin of .8% and a bit more than 22,000 votes. The state senate recount shows that is a statistical impossibility for the recount to change the outcome. Even if the statewide outcome changed the presidential outcome ten thousand times more than the state senate recount did(and extremely unlikely scenario), that would mean 10,000 additional votes for Hillary Clinton, less than half of what she’d need to carry Wisconsin.

While Kapanke’s chances of prevailing in his recount were slim, Stein’s is statistically non-existent  in the presidential recount and Clinton’s is nearly so. Kapanke’s motive for the recount was making sure he actually lost. Stein, and by extension Clinton, appear to have very different motives. There is no comparison between the two recounts.