About that $3.5 Million Recount Money…

If $3.5 million can be raised in a matter of days to do a statewide (Wisconsin) recount, why couldn’t we have used it to launch a nationwide campaign for something like any of the three issues I suggested in a post-election blog?

They were:

  1. a map for getting out of NAFTA and other “free trade” agreements in an orderly and positive way,
  2. transitioning to a single payer health care system1 from a truly flawed Obamacare, and
  3. reforming our elections, really, so that they are more democratic.

In the past, I’ve written about Obamacare and campaign reform, and written a book and articles about the evils of “free trade.” All three issues are especially timely at present.

But this is an explicit questioning of the wisdom of the recount. It has the aura of a stunt about it. Another dramatic one-off without a clear goal, certainly not part of a long-term strategy to bring improvement. Like a spectacular banner-hanging that makes a splash in the news and brings attention to certain individuals without contributing to positive change. Swatting at symptoms without being willing to do the sometimes tedious work of digging ourselves out of our current situation, one semicolon at a time.

I agree that our voting system (one aspect of the larger election scenario) is problematic in many respects. But that doesn’t mean that recounts will fix it, or even work especially well to expose or address problems. Why, for example, are people chanting “Recount!” and not, say, “End the Electoral College!”?

I don’t think recounts as currently structured will tell us much about the possibility that hacking or voting machine rigging skewed election results. They might point to some fertile places to look if, for example, there were many more discrepancies with one kind of voting machine than with another. However, this possibility is made murky by the fact that the recounts themselves will be conducted differently in different counties (not to mention different states).

I do know exactly how some of the recount money is being spent, and even know some of the people doing it. As a member of the public, I can watch the Dane County (Wisconsin) counting in real time two blocks from my apartment. I know what they’re looking at since I’ve been an election official for over five years, and have literally handled some of those same ballots.

We will learn some things from the recount. Partly, the news media and the public will learn things that poll workers already know. Such as, how the voting machines (tabulators, in my case) handle tiny stray marks, how the overwhelming number of write-in votes do not count (due to STATE LAW), and how many “provisional votes” end up not counting (see STATE LAW).

The circum-recount twittering, posturing, and lawsuits from all quarters have been informative. Something of a lawyer-fest, but so far I haven’t seen a clear movement toward specific reform. Where is the “model law” from the good guys’ side to be introduced to Congress, and the corresponding state version?

So, it’s not that we will learn nothing from a recount; rather, that given current realities, is this the best (or even a very good) use of $3.5 mill?

The most telling measure of the success of efforts at democratic change—across the board—is not column-inches or petition-signings or foundation funding surges. It is whether the dominant establishment is upset enough to take action. Right now, the recount is just a sideshow — it’s the pickles on a burger.

On the other hand, if a nationwide coalition of labor groups, small businesses, environmentalists, democracy activists, foodies, charango players, and sustainability aficionados (to sketch broadly) got together and developed a coherent transition out of NAFTA — on the eve of the inauguration of a president who railed against it — and transcended their usual 47-minute attention span — hey, there would be some worrying and action out there in the pro-“free trade” establishment.2 And we might be onto something.


  1. Single Payer: I do not mean to suggest that nobody is working on it. Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) have been working toward it for a long time.
  2. Long-sentence police are after me. On the run.