How Jill Stein Became the Headline-grabbing Star of U.S. Election Recount

Green Party's Jill Stein has positioned herself as Clinton’s potential vindicator, but not necessarily her savior.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein campaigning in Washington, D.C., Aug. 23, 2016.
Win Mcnamee/AFP

Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate and a near-unknown figure in the 2016 presidential race, has become a major player and a familiar face in the election’s aftermath as she moves to have the ballot counts reexamined in the three key states. The vote in those states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – helped clinch the presidency for Donald Trump and spelled defeat for Hillary Clinton.

During her campaign, Stein was as harshly critical of Clinton as she was of Trump. Often, Stein aimed even more criticism at the Democratic candidate than the GOP candidate as her campaign aimed to win over Clinton supporters on the left, particularly those in Bernie Sanders’ camp.

“Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of right-wing extremism. We have known that for a long time, ever since Nazi Germany,” Stein said in July, adding that the Democrats, under Clinton had “sabotaged a truly progressive agenda.”

But now, after petitioning for a recount, Stein has positioned herself as Clinton’s potential vindicator, though not necessarily her savior, with a “Thanksgiving surprise” that grabbed the headlines as American headed into their long holiday weekend: Stein issued a statement declaring that “reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts are causing many American to wonder if our election results are reliable. These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust.”

A long-time activist and politician, Stein also ran for president at the head of the Green Party in 2012, and before that, for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010. She ran her 2016 campaign on a platform that advocated making the U.S. economy solely reliant on renewable energy sources, offering free tuition at public universities, eliminating student debt and creating a government-paid health care system.

Stein says she is filing for a recount of votes in the three states in order to spearhead what she called “a multipartisan effort to check the accuracy of the machine-counted vote tallies in these states in order to ensure the integrity of our elections.”

The process can be done by means of checking the machine counts against paper back-ups.

Robert Hansen, chairman of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin County Democratic Party, removes signs at the headquarters, Nov. 17, 2016.
Tasos Katopodis/AFP

Initially, Stein’s website reported that if she managed to raise $2.5 million online to cover filing fees and lawyer’s costs, she would request a new ballot count in Wisconsin; later, she said that with an additional $2 million, she would do the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

On Saturday there were media reports that she had already received more than $5.2 million for the purposes of the recount. Thus, rather absurdly, in one day, Stein raised $4 million more than the estimated $3.5 million she was able to raise for her entire presidential campaign.

There are critics, however, who are urging caution and skepticism before donating to her cause, claiming that the sums she is asking for now have now edged suspiciously upward to $7 million. They warn that there is no guarantee that a recount will take place – and no guarantee that the funds donated will even be earmarked for that effort, as the Green Party is apparently permitted to pocket excess funds.

Stein’s website states in general language that any surplus will go to unspecified “election integrity efforts.”  

Stein herself has even said that it is “unlikely” that a recount will affect the election results, and admits that her goal is to shine a spotlight on the flawed electoral system to help spark change.

While there is no “smoking gun” at the moment, she notes, the vote-counting mechanisms as they exist in the three states she has targeted, as well as other states, are “wide open to hackers” in the “very vulnerable” American balloting system. At least one cybersecurity expert agrees with Stein, and has issued a public call to “look at the ballots” and ensure that no hacking took place.

Radical reform

The Clinton campaign initially resisted calls for a recount in the close election, in which the Democratic nominee won the popular vote by a proportionally far larger margin than she lost in the electoral race. But following the move by Stein, Clinton’s attorney, Marc Elias, announced the campaign would back Stein’s efforts.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein campaigning in Colorado, August 27, 2016.
Christian Murdock, AP

Elias explained that because the Clinton camp “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.”

This announcement sparked Donald Trump to charge that Clinton was backing an effort that is a “scam” designed to “fill (Stein’s) coffers with money, most of which she will never even spend on this ridiculous recount.”

Stein shot back that she was “deeply honored” to be criticized by Trump, in a live Facebook chat Saturday night. In the chat, she confirmed that recounts would only be a first step in a number of moves she advocates to reform and improve the voting system. Moreover, she indicated that the goal of these efforts is not to save Clinton but to point out how flawed the current system is.

Stein has long advocated radical election reform. Highly critical of the two-party system, she believes additional party choices should be encouraged, and in that vein, says voters should be able to mark a second choice of candidate on the ballot. She also supports lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

On foreign policy, Stein advocates drastically slashing military spending, closing foreign military bases, and eliminating financial and military support to countries that violate human rights.

On the top of that list is Israel. Stein’s campaign platform “supports the BDS movement as a peaceful, nonviolent set of actions organized by civil society across the world aimed to end Israeli apartheid, occupation, war crimes, and systematic human rights abuses.”

The U.S., she says, has “encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government as it pursues policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, demolitions, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law.”

Stein also calls for “ending military and economic support for the Israeli government while it is committing war crimes and defying international law.”

In a 2012 interview, Stein said she was “culturally Jewish” though she is no longer a practicing Jew and considers herself to be agnostic. Her Reform Jewish education with its emphasis on social justice, however, was a “huge” influence on her growing up, she noted, and “really had the values of the Old Testament, the golden rule, really very much drummed into my upbringing.”

Her positions on domestic and foreign policy issues set Stein apart from the other Jewish candidate in the 2016 race, Bernie Sanders who, though a progressive, said during his campaign that Israel should be “protected” by the U.S.

Though the recount effort in recent days has made her suddenly popular in anti-Trump circles, her unconventionally extreme positions on many issues apparently made her less than an attractive alternative to Clinton for many voters.

Over the weekend, as Stein starred in recount headlines, her reverential tribute to dictator Fidel Castro on learning of his demise drew fire and some angry feedback.