Calling it a "fishing expedition," Pennsylvania election officials on Thursday asked a federal judge to throw out a Green Party-backed lawsuit that seeks a recount of paper ballots cast in the Nov. 8 presidential election and an inspection to determine whether election software was hacked.
The state attorney general's office, representing Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, attacked the recount effort by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein as an effort to undo the presidential election won by Republican Donald Trump.
Stein lacks the necessary standing to challenge the election result because any change will not make her the winner, the state's lawyers wrote. It is "rank speculation" to suggest that Russian hackers somehow flipped the vote, they wrote. And Stein's challenge is based on unfounded suspicions and acknowledges that it's possible no evidence of hacking even exists, because sophisticated malware can be designed to disappear after carrying out its task.
"In other words, the plaintiffs want to audit machines even though they concede that there may be no evidence of anything when they look," Attorney General Bruce Beemer wrote in the 29-page filing. "This is the epitome of a fishing expedition and cannot be sanctioned in the context of a presidential election and a last minute attempt to derail Pennsylvania's election results."
The federal lawsuit is part of a broader effort by Stein to recount votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states with a history of voting for Democrats for president and where Trump narrowly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Stein got about 1 percent or less in each of the three states.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday in the Pennsylvania case. The federal deadline to certify the vote is Tuesday. Trump and the state Republican Party have also opposed a recount or examination of software.
A GOP lawyer, Lawrence Tabas, said Thursday that Stein's team is trying to "delay and obstruct" the Electoral College vote on Dec. 19.
A federal judge in Michigan on Wednesday ended a recount there after three days. In Wisconsin, a recount began last week and was more than 82 percent complete Thursday.
In their arguments to the federal court, Green Party lawyers say Pennsylvania has erected unconstitutional barriers to securing a recount or otherwise ensuring that the election result was legitimate. They also call Pennsylvania's election system "a national disgrace," saying most voters are forced to use outdated, paperless electronic voting machines that are vulnerable to hacking and banned in other states.
They have sought a recount of potentially more than 1 million paper ballots and a forensic examination of election system software in the six largest counties that use different kinds of paperless electronic voting machines.
The machines store votes electronically and can produce a paper record of the overall tally after polls close. But there is no way for individual voters to confirm their choices were recorded accurately.
Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that make exclusive or partial use of electronic voting machines without a paper backup.
Trump's lead over Clinton in Pennsylvania is about 44,000 out of more than 6 million votes cast, with just a few ballots remaining to be counted, state officials said this week.
Pennsylvania law requires a statewide recount if an election's loser is within 0.5 percentage points of the winner, or 30,000 votes out of 6 million. It also allows voters to petition their county for a recount in their precinct.
On Thursday, Chester County began a hand recount sought by Green Party-backed voters of more than 190,000 paper ballots cast in 143 out of the county's 228 precincts, county officials said. Meanwhile, judges and election officials in county after county that use paperless machines, including Philadelphia and Allegheny County, have rejected Green Party requests to inspect election system software for signs of hacking.