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Election Recount to Begin in Wisconsin Following Green Party Petition, Officials Say

The Green Party presidential nominee's effort to force a recount of the general election results in three Rust belt states garnered more green Friday.
DC: Green Party Presidential Nominee Jill Stein Makes Announcement On 2016 Race
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein announces the formation of an exploratory committee to seek the Green Party's presidential nomination again in 2016. during an event at the National Press Club Feb. 6, 2015 in Washington. Olivier Douliery / Sipa USA via AP

Wisconsin accepted Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein's petition for a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States, state officials said Friday. The recount is expected to begin late next week.

“The Commission is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States, as requested by these candidates,” Wisconsin Election Commission's Administrator Michael Haas said in a statement.

The state's election commission is still waiting to receive a cost estimate from county clerks to calculate the fee that Stein's campaign will have to pay before the start of the recount, but Haas anticipates the recount will begin next week after the fee is paid.

Stein announced that she intends to mount a legal challenge to re-examine the vote totals in three states, including Wisconsin, that performed differently than polling suggested they would on Election Day. The other two states are Michigan, where NBC News has yet to officially call a winner, and Pennsylvania.

Stein's Wisconsin filing came about an hour and a half before the afternoon deadline. Her campaign said Friday that it had surpassed its initial fundraising goal to fund the recount effort and crossed the $4 million mark.

Costs are likely to be steep. In Wisconsin alone, past statewide recounts for a non-presidential year cost more than $520,000, according to an incomplete survey carried out by the Associated Press in the wake of a contested Supreme Court election in 2011. Nearly double the number of voters turned out to the polls this year compared to the previous recount election, Haas said. In addition, Wisconsin officials would need to scramble to finish the recount by the federal Dec. 13 deadline.

“The recount process is very detail-oriented, and this deadline will certainly challenge some counties to finish on time,” Haas said in the statement.

The Michigan and Pennsylvania recount deadline dates are next week.

While Stein said her initial fundraising goal was $2.5 million, her campaign website now says she's trying to net $7 million, which would pay for the fees for filing costs, attorneys and statewide recount observers.

Stein said that any additional money raised will go toward "election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform," but according to former FEC chairman and election lawyer Michael Toner, it is unlikely she will be able to do that.

Two years ago, Congress changed the federal election laws to allow candidates and political parties to raise funds under separate contribution limits for recounts and other legal proceedings. Nevertheless, Toner explained, the FEC issued several advisory opinions in the past that discussed the permissible uses of recount funds.

"Funds raised by federal candidates and political parties for recount purposes may be used to defray the cost of recounts and other legal proceedings but cannot be used for other campaign purposes," Toner said.

"Whether recount funds could be used to pay for 'vote integrity' programs would need to be decided by the FEC, but I would doubt that the FEC would find that to be permissible," he added.

President-elect Donald Trump still holds narrow leads in all three states, and his victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin provided him with the Electoral College advantage he needed to win the presidency.

However, reports of irregularities in the vote count — brought to light by a collection of scientists and activists — along with concerns over whether Russia may have attempted to influence the results and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's historic and growing popular vote victory, have provided the momentum and emotion behind this admittedly long-shot fight to force a recount.

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"After a divisive and painful presidential race, reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts are causing many American to wonder if our election results are reliable. These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified." Stein said in a Wednesday statement. "We deserve elections we can trust."

For its part, the Clinton campaign, which stands to benefit the most from overturned election results, has remained quiet on Stein's crusade. Two advocates for a recount, lawyer John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, did attempt to lobby members of her team to back the effort during a conference call last week, but were rebuffed.

"There's either a huge subset of hidden voters that didn't tell pollsters how they were going to vote, or something went awry with those voting systems. If we can X out that second option, why not," a source who was privy to conversations with the Clinton camp recently told NBC News.

The Clinton campaign was reportedly unmoved because there have no been widespread reports of fraud or vote tampering. Many experts believe that the real culprit behind the polling disparities in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania was an unmotivated Democratic base, which failed to turn out in full force on Election Day.

The Trump campaign has also been dismissive of Stein's actions, with the president-elect's aide, Kellyanne Conway, mocking the Green Party candidate's supporters on Twitter:

Still, Stein's push is moving forward and she is up against the clock. With Wisconsin's Friday deadline, Stein has said the initial $2.5 million she raised will cover that effort.

Further funding will be redirected to Michigan, where the filing cost will be $600,000 and the challenge deadline is Monday, and Pennsylvania, where the filing cost is $500,000 and the deadline is Wednesday.

Some critics have expressed skepticism about whether the money donated to Stein will really finance a recount effort, or will simply amount to a replenished war chest for the Green Party, which failed to reach the 5 percent threshold in the popular vote that could have led to federal funding in future elections.

The fine print on her website tells donors that she cannot guarantee that a recount will happen and that any surplus money raised will go towards "election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform." All of their money has come from private citizens, the Green Party does not accept corporate donations.

A recount would mean a hand-counting of ballots, including those from electronic machines, which are the ones most in dispute, and experts believe it is highly unlikely that the process would overturn enough votes to help Clinton reduce her deficits.

But according to Stein, that's not the point.

"This is not being done to benefit one candidate at the expense of the other," she said Thursday during an appearance on the PBS NewsHour. "This is being done because Americans, you know, come out of this election not happy campers."