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Allegheny County delays certifying election results as recount requests roll in

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, 2:36 p.m.
Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein is on track to raise twice as much for an election recount effort than she did for her own failed Green Party presidential bid.
Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein is on track to raise twice as much for an election recount effort than she did for her own failed Green Party presidential bid.
Voting machine coordinators Barb Harkins and Mark Lamberger work through a calibration screen on voting machines in an Allegheny County warehouse in Manchester on Monday Aug. 22, 2016.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Voting machine coordinators Barb Harkins and Mark Lamberger work through a calibration screen on voting machines in an Allegheny County warehouse in Manchester on Monday Aug. 22, 2016.

Allegheny County delayed certifying its Nov. 8 election results so officials can review requests filed Monday seeking a recount of the presidential and U.S. Senate voting results.

The push for recounts locally is part of a larger effort led by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who has called for recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. She raised about $6.5 million in five days to support the effort.

“Americans deserve a voting system we can trust,” Stein told the Tribune-Review in a phone interview Monday.

Stein told the Trib that she doesn't have proof of voting irregularities or tampering in Pennsylvania or the other states, but she said cyber-security and elections experts she consulted suggested that the three states' voting systems were particularly vulnerable to foul play.

Stein insisted that politics didn't influence her choice in states, although Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan have a combined 46 electoral votes. President-elect Donald Trump, who won all three states, collected 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton's 232. Clinton's campaign has said it supports Stein's effort, while Trump called it a “scam” on his Twitter account.

“We're not doing this to change the outcome of the election. I stated throughout the election that I would challenge the validity of the electoral process if it was in question. ... We're in this because we're at a crisis point in our electoral process,” Stein said, raising concerns about the security and lack of a paper trail for every ballot cast on Pennsylvania's voting machines.

“When you get into an airplane, you don't want to wait for the wings to start shaking before you start to think, ‘Gee, we should have a backup system,' ” Stein said.

To request a review of results in a Pennsylvania voting precinct, at least three voters from that precinct must file a notarized affidavit in their county. Pennsylvania is home to 9,163 precincts. At least 27,489 people would need to file affidavits to have results reviewed in all precincts.

“The Department of State is working to gather information from the 67 counties regarding their process in certifying election returns. We've learned that many counties have completed their certification, thereby closing the five-day window to petition the county level for a recount,” agency spokeswoman Wanda Murren said in a statement.

In Beaver County, which has 129 precincts, elections chief Doreen Mandity turned away two people who wanted to file affidavits because she said the county's election results were finalized Wednesday. Mandity said concerned parties had five days to question or challenge the election results after the county completed what she described as a thorough review of the returns. When no one did, the county certified the results.

“We didn't accept them,” Mandity said of the affidavits brought in Monday. Trump defeated Clinton by nearly 16,000 votes, or 20 percentage points, in Beaver County.

Stein filed a separate petition Monday in Commonwealth Court to “allow the campaign to pursue a statewide recount in Pennsylvania, for example, if ... recounts at the precinct level uncovered irregularities or tampering.”

Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said “this desperate act by Jill Stein and those supporting her is a sad commentary on the failure of some to accept the results of the will of the people as reflected by their votes.”

It's unknown how extensive the review will be in Allegheny County, which has 1,322 precincts. Organizers had informed the county's election division earlier Monday that it anticipated seeking reviews in about 60 precincts. County spokeswoman Amie Downs said at the close of business Monday that she didn't know how many affidavits had been filed.

Voters had until 4:30 p.m. to file affidavits in Allegheny County, where Clinton defeated Trump by 105,529 votes, or 16.4 percentage points.

The review won't be a traditional recount.

Downs said county elections officials will “recanvass” the results in the applicable precincts, a process in which election-night result tapes from electronic voting machines are compared against the totals on the machines' redundant memory flash cards.

“At this point, there is no order from the (Pennsylvania) Secretary of State ... to recount the returns for an office” for the entire county, Downs said. The last countywide recount occurred in 2011, when a Commonwealth Court race was decided by 2,116 votes, triggering an automatic recount, she said. It took about 1 12 days to perform, and the state reimbursed the county for the work.

Three people showed up at the Westmoreland County Prothonotary's Office to file affidavits, office supervisor Patty Felker said. Westmoreland County has 306 precincts.

Felker said “they didn't (file the affidavit) because they didn't want to pay the filing fee,” which is $149.50. “Apparently they weren't that interested.”

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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