Green Party to file petition in federal court to force Pa. recount

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Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaks at a campaign rally in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. September 8, 2016.

Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein withdrew her statewide recount effort in Pennsylvania on Saturday after a Commonwealth Court judge mandated that the 100 voters who brought the suit on the campaign's behalf post a $1 million bond to press on with the challenge.

In court documents filed ending the petition shortly before 5 p.m., an attorney for the Stein campaign wrote: "Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means. They cannot afford to post the $1,000,000 bond required by the Court."

The abrupt halt to the campaign's strategy comes less than one week after Stein asked a Pennsylvania court to approve a statewide recount, contending the Nov. 8 election was "illegal" and the results inaccurate.

Still, according to statement issued on Stein's Facebook page just before midnight Saturday, a lawyer for the Stein recount effort indicated the fight in Pennsylvania is not over. Beyond a second recount effort in the state - a county-by-county attempt - that is still alive, Stein's attorney said the campaign will file a petition in federal court Monday, "demanding a statewide recount on constitutional grounds."

"Make no mistake - the Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania," lawyer Jonathan Abady said in a statement Saturday night. "We are committed to this fight to protect the civil and voting rights of all Americans."

Stein will hold a news conference about the Pennsylvania recount Monday at 10 a.m. outside Trump Tower in New York. 

In pursuing the recount in Commonwealth court, the campaign cited research from computer scientists suggesting that possible irregularities with electronic voting machines could have made the election vulnerable to hackers. Stein's campaign has hoped a recount in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan could overturn the results in three key swing states that historically back Democrats for president but elected Donald Trump.

In Pennsylvania, the statewide recount request was filed last Monday by at least 100 voters, as required by Pennsylvania law, and was backed by the Stein campaign. No residents were named.

On Friday, Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt ordered that the $1 million be paid by this Monday.

"The judge's outrageous demand that voters pay such an exorbitant figure is a shameful, unacceptable barrier to democratic participation," Stein said in a statement Saturday. "This is yet another sign that Pennsylvania's antiquated election law is stacked against voters."

After the lawsuit was withdrawn Saturday afternoon, hope for at least a partial recount in Pennsylvania remained, as Stein's county-by-county recount effort will continue, said Lawrence Otter, an attorney for the Stein campaign who filed court documents Saturday.

In a separate effort, the campaign had hoped voters in Pennsylvania precincts would submit petitions to their local election boards asking for recounts. The process required three voters in each precinct to make the petition. Locally, petitions were filed in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties, Otter said - efforts that have been met with mixed success.

Last week, Philadelphia's commissioners agreed to recount ballots in 75 of the city's more than 1,600 divisions, but rejected a forensic audit of how the voting machines worked. Judges in Bucks and Delaware Counties are expected to hold hearings on the matter this week, Otter said.

A request for recounts in 72 of Montgomery County's precincts was rejected by a judge last week. A partial recount in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, will take place Monday.

Together, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin - all of which voted Democrat in the last two presidential elections - carry enough electoral votes to flip the election. But so far, the state's top election official, Pedro Cortes, has said there was "no evidence whatsoever" of voting irregularities.

Trump beat Clinton by about 49,500 votes, a gap that narrowed this week by about 20,000 votes after results were updated.

Stein's recount efforts have faced fierce pushback from Trump's team, which filed complaints last week in the three states to halt the recount efforts. The discontinuance in Pennsylvania is "a recognition that their election contest was completely without merit," Lawrence Tabas, lead counsel for Trump in the state, said Saturday.

To fund the recounts, Stein last month established an online fund-raising drive, which by Saturday night had reached nearly $7 million. In Wisconsin, Stein was required to pay nearly $3.5 million for the recount, which began Thursday.

In Michigan, a statewide recount is slated to proceed. The state's Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 Friday on Trump's request to reject the recount, meaning a recount will occur unless the courts step in to stop it.

A hearing for the recount had been scheduled in state court Monday. That has now been canceled.

cmccabe@phillynews.com

610-313-8113@mccabe_caitlin