The effort initiated last week by Green Party candidate Jill Stein to perform recounts in Wisconsin, and possibly in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well, will almost certainly not change the 2016 presidential election for Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, despite President-elect Donald Trump’s weekend tweetstorm decrying the effort (and raising unsupported accusations about people voting illegally), the effort by Stein, who has been joined by the Clinton campaign in Wisconsin, is important — not because it’s likely to change the outcome of the election, but because it will help restore our faith in our electoral process after a cynical and brutal campaign.
My new favorite way to torture myself is to look up states that Clinton narrowly lost, and then add the votes cast for Stein to Clinton’s total and watch them flip from Red to Blue. I realize this is a largely meaningless move; even if Stein had exhorted her followers to vote for Clinton, it is unlikely that they would have all voted for her (I’d imagine many Stein supporters wouldn’t have voted for Clinton if their lives depended on it), and there’s no telling what effect a Green Party endorsement of Clinton would have done to her support in the center.
Nevertheless, Stein has tapped into the anger on the left regarding the outcome of the election, and I believe she has helped stake out a viable position for the recount that the Clinton campaign could not, with its pre- (and just post-) election rhetoric about the need for the loser to accept the results. That anger might be no more better quantified by the $6.3 million (and counting) that Stein has raised to fund the recount efforts (vastly outpacing the $3 million that she raised for her own presidential bid).
Many have been critical of Stein’s effort, especially the fundraising end, arguing there are better places for opponents of Trump to spend their money. As Slate's Daniel Politi noted, "Many are urging those who just want to put their money where their mouth is to send cash for progressive organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, which have already seen a surge in donations after Trump’s election."
However, the symbolic importance of the recount could be just as (if not more) important than any tangible results. As Computer Science Professor J. Alex Halderman wrote in his Medium post defending his push for the recounts, “Examining the physical evidence in these states — even if it finds nothing amiss — will help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate.”
Halderman went on to discuss the ways we should routinely check our election results, even when we don’t suspect something is amiss, as a way of bolstering our faith in the democratic process. I believe should be viewing Stein’s recount effort as a moment of healing, and not sore-loserdom. If the president-elect can’t handle that, then he’s got a lot of disappointment waiting for him in the Oval Office.