Montco judge rejects presidential-vote recount request

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Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is pursuing recounts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

A Montgomery County Court judge rejected a petition Wednesday to recanvass votes in some of the county's precincts, turning down a request by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's campaign, which is seeking a recount of votes in Pennsylvania.

Judge Bernard A. Moore dismissed the petitions for recounts in 72 of the 425 precincts at the end of a brief hearing Wednesday afternoon, offering no reason for his ruling.

The petitions were part of an effort by Stein's campaign to seek a statewide recount. The campaign filed a petition in Commonwealth Court that is scheduled for consideration Monday. Voters also have filed petitions seeking recounts in counties around the state.

In Philadelphia, the Board of Elections announced it would meet Thursday morning to review petitions for recounts in 82 of its 1,686 divisions and determine which divisions would be reexamined.

Some top Democrats and Hillary Clinton supporters, meanwhile, suggested that a recount is a waste of resources.

"Believe me, if there was anything I could do to make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States, I would," said former Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime supporter. "But this is a big waste of time."

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, also said he does not expect the results to change.

"People are free to pursue a recount, but my focus is on the work that needs to be done in remainder of this Congress," he said.

In Montgomery County on Wednesday, a solicitor for the Election Board and attorneys for President-elect Donald Trump and the state Republican Party opposed the Green Party's petitions, each of which was signed by three voters. They called the recount request a "fishing expedition" and asked the judge to reject it, based in part on a technicality: The petitioners did not file $50 cash with each petition, as required under state law.

Ilann Maazel, an attorney for Stein's campaign, said the 72 Montgomery County petitions were filed with a fee of $269.50 each, as required by the Prothonotary's Office, which should have been more than enough to cover any cash requirement for recounts.

Maazel said a recanvassing of votes and forensic examination of voting machines in the county would be important because machines are "vulnerable to malware" and are easier to hack than an iPhone. There has been an "enormous effort to interfere with American elections," he said, citing the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. He told the judge that the campaign had forensic experts ready to begin examining voting machines immediately for possible hacking if their request was granted.

Senior Assistant County Solicitor Nicole Forzato argued that the request for a recount was based on speculation and that recounts cannot be conducted as "fishing expeditions."

"Those machines can't be hacked," she said, adding that Montgomery County's voting machines are not connected to the internet and that she could offer an expert who could testify about the matter.

Lawrence Tabas, an attorney for Trump's campaign and general counsel for the state Republican Party, said that petitioners should not be permitted to cherry-pick precincts for recounts.

"It would insult the term 'Hail Mary' to even say that's what it is," Tabas said of the recount efforts.

Moore, a Republican senior judge, ruled from the bench. While Maazel criticized Republican Party lawyers for opposing the recount petition, Montgomery County's administration is controlled by Democrats and the county's solicitor also opposed it.

Trump defeated Clinton in Pennsylvania by about 71,000 votes.

Maazel said after the hearing that he would meet with his team and determine whether to appeal. He said he expects recount requests in some other counties will be granted, and he is preparing for the hearing in Commonwealth Court on Monday.

In an announcement of its Thursday morning meeting, the Philadelphia Board of Elections said it was prepared to begin a recount immediately after examining the petitions.

A Chester County spokeswoman said Wednesday that the county was still reviewing petitions it received for recounts in 139 of its 228 precincts.

Stein knows she would not become president as a result of a recount, but wants to "to get to the truth, Maazel said. "She wants to make sure that every vote was counted accurately."

lmccrystal@philly.com

610-313-8116

@LMcCrystal

Staff writers Michaelle Bond, Chris Brennan, and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.

This article contains information form the Associated Press.

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