Jill Stein Speaks To R29 About Why The U.S. Election Recount Matters

Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock
By now, you've probably heard about the recount efforts surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party's presidential candidate, is fighting to contest the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — three states that were key to President-elect Donald Trump's electoral college win. Stein has raised an eye-popping $7.2 million — twice the donation haul from her entire presidential campaign — to cover recount filing fees and attorneys. Experts say Stein's efforts are unlikely to change the outcome of the election. And some critics have questioned Stein's intentions and plans to spend the huge sums raised. That group includes President-elect Donald Trump, who called it a "scam to raise money."

With the recount in Wisconsin underway and two other requests being fought in the courts, Stein spoke to Refinery29 about her effort, her plan for the donations, and what she has to say to people who blame her for Hillary Clinton's loss.

Was there a specific moment or event that made you realise a recount was necessary?
"These electronic machines have been proven to be wide open to tampering, human error, hacking. I have long been committed to election integrity and the need to deeply reform the process, as it is inherently inaccurate, insecure, and unfair. It’s not only that the machines are unreliable; it’s also that there is a bias in their unreliability. That bias means that low-income areas and communities of colour, in particular, don’t have access to adequate budgets, so their machines are poorly maintained and poorly calibrated. We’ve seen that in past elections, and there’s growing evidence that might be going on now, as well. It’s not only communities of colour that are at risk here, but also college campuses. "Throughout the election, I was asked if I would stand up for a recount if there were reasons to question the credibility of the results, and I always said I would. In my mind, they’re operating with inherently fallible technology. Recounts are an important way not only to establish what the vote really was but to also to engage the public in a rare window of opportunity where people are highly focused to help us push forward to an election system we can all trust."

The fact that Donald Trump is going to the lengths that he is to try and stop this recount only further justifies the need for the recount.

How much greater have the hurdles been for this recount than you imagined they would be?
"I never assumed this would be easy. To me, it was always uncharted waters where we were going up against a very powerful political establishment that was going to fight tooth and nail to suppress the truth and maintain their lack of transparency and their lack of accountability. "The fact that Donald Trump is going to the lengths that he is to try and stop this recount only further justifies the need for the recount. If he believes in democracy, and if he believes in the validity of his victory, then why would he be working so hard to stop an examination of the vote? "Just to make an analogy in any kind of a sports game, like tennis: If there’s any question about where the ball landed, whether it was in bounds or out of bounds, you review the video and you find out. Are our elections less important than a tennis game? That seems to be what they are saying here." What exactly is the money being spent on?
"The costs are all detailed on our fundraising page. What people also want to know is where money is kept, and if it can be used for other causes. According to [Federal Election Commission] rules, the money has to be raised in a segregated, dedicated account, which has to be strictly for purposes of [the] recount. It is highly unlikely there will be extra money here; we're going to be very hard-pressed to meet the costs that keep being raised on us. "You wouldn't believe how many attorneys are on this. Yesterday, we had nine court cases. This is the political resistance coming from Trump, his PAC, and his allies in the states. We have a core of attorneys who specialise in election justice, and they have to work, then, also with attorneys in each of the states. So there are an enormous amount of legal fees."
Photo: Alex Brandon/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Jill Stein, shown here at a campaign rally, is continuing to fight for her recount effort in the courts.
Where would the leftover money go, should there be any?
"Excess money would be used according to FEC guidelines. In 2004, the leftover money was distributed to non-profits that work on election integrity that keep [the] movement growing. That was our original intention, but it’s not clear if the FEC guidelines changed. "Also there is a possibility we could refund to the donor. If we can continue and still follow FEC guidelines, we would do a ranked choice vote among donors to have them decide what to do with the excess through a fair, accurate process. We would model how elections should look." "By the way, a recount in 2004 cost a couple hundred thousand dollars. It’s troubling that the costs have been raised. Is this a political price tag? Where are these costs coming from? Wisconsin costs went from $1.1 million to $3.5 million overnight. How much of this is political intimidating and silencing of grassroots movement from our right to a reliable vote?" What do you have to say to people who blame you for Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss?
"The simple explanation is that the Democratic Party is looking for someone to blame other than themselves. Democrats like to fantasise that they own our vote, or our votes were taken from them, but they have to earn our votes. "If you look at the numbers, it shows that the Greens who would have transferred their vote to Hillary Clinton if a Green candidate had not run would not have added enough votes to Clinton to make the difference in any states. The exit polls show 61% of Greens wouldn't have voted at all if they couldn't vote Green. "If you look at remainder of Greens who would have come to the poll without a Green candidate, one third of them say they would have gone to Trump. This myth of us ruining Hillary’s win is used here to distract from the fact that this was an election where most people were voting against the candidate they disliked the most. "The Democrats had a history that was not friendly to working people, to immigrants, or to communities of colour. Specifically, the 1994 Crime Bill, which was passed by Bill [Clinton] and supported by Hillary, is what people were voting against."

The solution to a compromised democracy on life support is not to suppress opposition voices.

Why do you think so many people hold onto this belief that you caused Clinton's loss?
"Blaming Greens is an effort to maintain [a] stranglehold on progressive voters. The issue here is much larger than what happened in this race. People who are saying we shouldn’t have run, so Hillary could have done better, are saying that we should only have two official parties. So we would be like Iran or something, where you only have state-sanctioned parties? And that would help us? Probably not. "The solution to a compromised democracy on life support is not to suppress opposition voices. Democracy relies on vigorous opposition and vigorous debate. Instead, what you want to do is just change the voting system so that it doesn't constrain people by making them terrified of actually bringing their value to the vote. Should we be voting by deciding whom we hate the most? That does not a democracy make. "A democracy should reflect our values, and we need a voting system that allows us to bring our moral compass to the polls. That means ranked choice voting, open debates, so voters can be informed and empowered and end voter ID laws." Besides donating to this recount, how else can an everyday citizen fight against voter suppression?
"This is a movement for election justice and election integrity, and that movement has only just begun. The movement is very big and has many different pieces. I think it's very important for these pieces to come together, because divided we’re conquered, where united we’re powerful and can’t be stopped. "There are many pathways to ending voter suppression, including fighting against voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement and this Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which purges people from the voter rolls. You can also fight for automatic registration and early voting and for adequate election infrastructure and polling sites. "We need to come together to get money out of politics. We need to end fear-based voting, which constrains our vote. We need a clear constitutional right to vote and defence of that right, but we also have to assert our right to be informed who our choices actually are. "Being forced to vote for the lesser evil doesn’t deliver what people want. Eventually, people vote against the lesser evil, which appears to have been a big dynamic in this 2016 election. So many working people felt they had been betrayed by lesser-evil Democrats, so they decided they were going to just throw their vote to Donald Trump, even though that was a pretty crazy thing to do, too. If they had known there was a third-party candidate who actually represented their values — and if they had a voting system that didn't make them terrified of voting their values — we could have seen a completely different universe come from this election." This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More from US News

R29 Original Series