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Stein campaign files Pennsylvania recount suit

HARRISBURG — Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein asked a Pennsylvania court on Monday to approve a statewide recount, building on her bid to contest the election results in three key states.

The petition filed in Commonwealth Court contends the Nov. 8 election was "illegal" and the results inaccurate. It cites, among other things, research by computer scientists suggesting possible irregularities with electronic voting machines. And it came as supporters sought separate recounts in precincts across the state, including in Philadelphia and Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

State Republicans quickly dismissed the effort as "a desperate act" built on a "wild claim." And the state's top elections official repeated his insistence that there has been "no evidence whatsoever" of voting irregularities.

"Absolutely not," said Pedro Cortes, secretary of state under Democratic Gov. Wolf.

The legal challenge — first of its kind in Pennsylvania for a statewide election — is another prong in Stein's bid to overturn the results in states that sealed President-elect Donald Trump's win over Hillary Clinton. Her camp filed a recount petition last week in Wisconsin, and is expected to do so this week in Michigan.

Clinton lost each of those states by fewer than 100,000 votes, and lost Pennsylvania by about 71,300 votes, or about 1 percentage point.

The petition in Pennsylvania was filed by 100 voters, as required by the state's election law. None was named. Lawrence M. Otter, the lawyer who filed the petition, called it unprecedented.

"Petitioners have grave concerns about the integrity of electronic voting machines used in their districts," he wrote in the filing.

Besides the expert opinions, it cites reports of computer hacking of election systems in other states, possibly by a foreign government, as well as the discrepancy between preelection poll predictions and the actual results.

No judge had been assigned to the case as of late Monday and it was not clear if or when a hearing could occur.

But Republicans were quick to decry it as the desperate act of a losing campaign.

"This  ...  is a sad commentary on the failure of some to accept the results of the will of the people as reflected by their votes," said state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason.

Lawrence Tabas, a lawyer for the state Republican Party who specializes in election law, said he was not aware of any other such statewide election challenge and promised a vigorous legal fight.

As of Monday morning, Stein had raised $6.2 million, covering the costs of recounts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and was close to her goal of $7 million to also cover recount costs in Michigan.

Monday's filing, among other things, cites as evidence highly publicized comments last week by a group of well-regarded computer security experts raising the specter of cyber attacks meant to manipulate the outcome of the presidential election.

The experts found that in Wisconsin, for instance, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that used electronic-voting machines as opposed to counties that relied on other voting methods, including paper ballots.

It also pointed to hacking of computers associated with the Democratic National Committee and election systems in Arizona and Illinois.

Marc Elias, general counsel for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, has said the campaign agrees with the recount efforts in "principle," but stressed that the campaign had not uncovered any evidence of hacking or other outside attempts to alter voting technology.

Trump has slammed the recount push as a "scam," declaring that "nothing will change."

Separately from the lawsuit, Stein's campaign on Monday began pushing recount efforts in selected Pennsylvania precincts — a process that requires three voters in each precinct to petition their local election boards.

It is also a process that, in Pennsylvania at least, is complicated by the fact that some counties have already certified their election results — more than half, according to the Department of State — precluding voter-initiated recounts. That would seem to make a lawsuit the only option for initiating a statewide recount.

Still, voters in counties across the state that had not yet certified the Nov. 8 results poured into election offices Monday clutching recount paperwork.

In Philadelphia, voters submitted petitions for 74 divisions — or about 4.4 percent of the city's 1,686. In Bucks County, as of 4 p.m., petitions were filed with the prothonotary for 24 of the 304 voting districts, said Court Administrator Stephen G. Heckman.

In Montgomery County, voters had filed 91 petitions to Voter Services as of 3:30 p.m.

County Solicitor Raymond McGarry said he notified Stein's campaign that the petitions had to be filed in County Court.

"We're going to sit them in bins unless and until the court tells us to do something with them," McGarry said.

Twenty-five petitions were filed in court by the end of the day, as a lawyer for the campaign arrived at the Prothonotary's Office minutes before it closed and promised to return the next morning with a check for the correct amount.

At the Voter Services office, Ruth Damsker, a former county commissioner, was among the residents gathered to help.

Damsker, a Clinton supporter, said she joined the recount effort because she thought it was "a positive thing" to do, given the talk of potential voter fraud and election rigging during the campaign.

"When you have a presidential candidate saying everything was rigged, unfortunately people start to believe that," Damsker said as she sat at a laptop and worked on a spreadsheet. "I think people have lost confidence."

Still, she said, "I don't expect the results to change anything."