Stein lawyers take Pa. recount battle to federal court

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Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein waits to speak at a news conference on Fifth Avenue across the street from Trump Tower. Standing to her left Monday was local activist Cheri Honkala.

Green Party-backed lawyers moved their fight for a recount of Pennsylvania's Nov. 8 presidential election results to federal court Monday, hoping the new venue and a last-minute shift in strategy would favor their push for an audit of the state's nearly 24,000 voting machines.

Calling Pennsylvania's election system a "national disgrace" reliant upon outdated technology, the lawyers urged a Philadelphia judge to order a statewide recount and a forensic examination of a sample set of the machines.

Both steps, the lawyers said in their complaint, are necessary to determine if hackers manipulated the state's election results. They offered no evidence to suggest any manipulation had occurred.

"Voters are forced to use vulnerable, hackable, antiquated technology banned in other states, then rely on the kindness of machines. There is no paper trail," lawyers Ilann M. Maazel and Gregory Harvey wrote in the filing. "A majority of machines voted for Donald Trump in Pennsylvania. But who did the people vote for?"

The complaint came days after lawyers withdrew a similar suit from Commonwealth Court, saying the 200 voters it represented could not come up with the required $1 million bond to pursue their challenge.

But with just over a week to go before the federal deadline for resolving election disputes, time may be running out.

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond did not indicate Monday if he would grant a hearing. Federal election law requires that election disputes be resolved before Dec. 13, six days before the Electoral College is to meet.

The Pennsylvania Department of State declined to comment on the suit. But the state's top election official, Pedro Cortes, has said there is "no evidence whatsoever" of voting irregularities in Pennsylvania.

A Close Election in Pennsylvania Gets Closer

Donald Trump’s lead over Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania has shrunk by over 21,000 votes since Nov. 8, with the difference between the two candidates now less than one percentage point, the second-closest in state history. The count has changed as counties have tallied additional provisional and absentee ballots, but Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania is not expected to be overtaken. Pennsylvania’s electors will meet on Dec. 19 in Harrisburg to officially cast the state’s electoral votes.
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President-elect Donald Trump has called the Green Party's efforts here and in Wisconsin and Michigan, where recounts are already underway, a scam. His narrow victories in all three states proved crucial to his victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In a court filing late Monday, Trump's lawyers sought to intervene in the Pennsylvania lawsuit, arguing that a prolonged court battle could force the state to miss the deadline for certifying its vote.

"Failure to meet this deadline will prevent the Electoral College from . . . casting their vote on the 19th and could delay the inauguration," they said in a filing that also seeks permission for the state Republican Party and Pennsylvania's presidential electors to intervene.

Still, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who has spearheaded the election challenges, and her supporters remained resolute Monday.

Speaking to a crowd of backers at a small rally outside the Trump Tower in New York City, Stein called on judges in the three states to ensure "that all votes are counted, that voters can trust the system."

About 30 demonstrators gathered in Harrisburg in the Capitol Rotunda carrying signs with messages that read, "I Want to Trust the Numbers," and chanting "Count every vote."

And at a news conference in Philadelphia to coincide with the filing of the lawsuit, Maazell lambasted Pennsylvania's reliance on outdated voting technology, which he claimed would be "child's play" for a sophisticated hacker to tamper with.

He was unable to point to any evidence of manipulation in Pennsylvania, but made broad references to the hacking of email accounts of Democratic National Committee members and reports of possible voting system breaches in other states.

In their filing, Maazell and Harvey blamed the "byzantine" requirements Pennsylvania imposes on voters seeking to initiate recounts for wasting valuable time before next week's deadline and prompting their move over the weekend to drop their state court suit.

"This labyrinthine, incomprehensible and impossibly burdensome election regime might make Kafka proud. But for ordinary voters, it is a disaster," they wrote.

Trump won Pennsylvania by fewer than 48,000 votes, according to an updated total released Monday by the state.

The margin of victory has shrunk as counties continue to tally their provisional and absentee ballots, but it is still short of the 0.5 percent margin of victory that triggers an automatic statewide recount under state law.

In addition to their efforts in federal court, Stein's legal team urged voters in Pennsylvania precincts to submit petitions to their county election boards asking for localized recounts.

Locally, petitions were filed in Philadelphia, and Bucks and Montgomery Counties - efforts 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. Maazel said Monday that the Green Party's legal team is pursuing a state court appeal of that decision.

A judge rejected a request for recounts in 72 of Montgomery County's precincts last week. A partial recount in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, was scheduled to occur Monday. A judge in Bucks County is expected to hold hearings on the matter this week.

jroebuck@phillynews.com215-854-2608@JeremyRRoebuck

Karen Langley of the Harrisburg bureau contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.