The election is over, but it seems like America is content to keep its head submerged in a River Styx swirly because we're still talking about it. Here's a brief rundown of all the election odds, ends, and codas that are still unspooling, threatening to make sure that 2016 lasts forever.
Donald Trump is wrong, part 1,356
Despite the fact that he won the presidential election — after weeks of complaining that it would be stolen from him — Trump, who will start office with a tiny or nonexistent mandate, is now trying to start the completely false rumor that he would have definitely won the popular vote too if it weren't for those meddling illegal voters.
Trump appears to have adapted his tweet from the conspiracy theory depot known as Infowars, which posits, without proof, that three million undocumented immigrants voted this year. There is absolutely no proof that millions of people voted illegally, just as there is no proof that Trump is just three fourth-graders in a baggy suit. A study from earlier this year found just 10 cases of voter impersonation in all the elections from 2000 to 2012. Many — so many — other studies and investigations have reached the same conclusion. This has not stopped Trump from spreading conspiracy theories about voter fraud, either to foment skepticism about electoral results and the leaders picked through this system, or because he is a personified TinyLetter, aggregating everything he saw that day on the TV, Breitbart, or Infowars and translating it into his single-syllable je ne sais quoi.
Widespread voter fraud doesn't happen, but if there's anything we've learned from Trump's political career, it's that utter falsehoods can have quite the lifespan. And if we've learned anything about voting rights in the past six years, it's that voting restrictions are usually introduced after a barrage of statements stoking fears about fraud.
For years, Republican state legislatures have been implementing strict measures aimed at fixing a problem that does not exist — and making it harder for low-income voters to cast ballots in the process. Fourteen states had brand-new voter restrictions in place for the 2016 election. There are 33 Republican governors and 32 Republican-controlled state legislatures, so introducing this type of legislation is easy, and plenty of Republicans are ready for more of it. A recent poll showed that 66 percent of GOP voters think that ineligible voters casting ballots is a bigger problem that voter suppression. Down in North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory has refused to concede his race despite the fact that his opponent's lead has grown since November 8, citing a nonexistent horde of dead voters. Despite the fact that proof of fraud is just as nonexistent now as it was six years ago, don't expect this fight to go away anytime soon.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has managed to raise more than $6 million so far for her recount fund. She has already filed for an electoral audit in Wisconsin, a state that Trump won by about 27,000 votes. Her campaign has enough money to file for a recount in Pennsylvania too — although actually making it happen might be exceedingly hard — and is not too far away from having enough for Michigan, which Trump officially won as of this Monday. Much of the money is coming from Clinton supporters once worried about Trump's talk about rigged elections and now suspicious of Russian hackers (or just desperate for a last-minute 2016 plot twist). But would the recount change anything, or was it simply inevitable that this strange year would end with Stein getting an encore?
Stein herself says that “this is not likely at all to change the outcome, and that's what the computer and voting security experts say as well.” J. Alex Halderman, one of the cybersecurity experts who raised questions about the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, said in a different Medium post that “the most likely explanation” for the electoral results “is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.” An Obama administration official told the New York Times that “The Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day.” FiveThirtyEight looked at the data and found no evidence that anything was amiss that couldn't be explained by how demographics voted this year. Also, Trump is ahead by tens of thousands of votes in these states; leads this large have never been overturned by a recount.
In order for the presidential election result to change, recounts would have to show that the voter tallies in all three states were off-kilter enough to deprive Clinton of a victory in each of them. However, people seem primed to accept that the least likely scenario is always possible after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and Trump won the presidency, so evermore do thin hopes thrive. The Clinton campaign says it will send a lawyer to recount-related meetings, although they also aren't crossing their fingers for a reversal of fate. The Democratic candidate's general counsel wrote on Medium that they “had not planned to exercise this option ourselves” because they “had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology.”
Regardless of what it does or doesn't do, the recount provides an opportunity to think about how ancient most of America's voting machines are. Even without hacking, these old machines tend to find lots of trouble all by themselves — and can make recounts difficult. Back in October, the Los Angeles Times wrote that Pennsylvania could be a "nightmare" during a disputed election because of its decades-old machines. (Maybe we can get new machines that are less than a decade old before the next election, hmm?)
Trump, meanwhile, leaped at the opportunity to relive a time when his most pressing concern was making Clinton look bad. He may have been annoyed that someone else was also trying to make the election results look less than legitimate despite having no evidence.
The Green Party also pushed for a recount in 2004. As you may have noticed, John Kerry is not president, so the effort didn't turn up much. In short, for those hoping for a different ending to this election cycle, good luck, but maybe keep looking. For those hoping for the election to go on forever, congrats. The ballots will continue to be tabulated until next month — and if Trump challenges a recount in Michigan, the process could last until late December. 2016 just doesn't want to quit us.
(Stein, by the way, doesn't really care about who won the election, and is most interested in raising awareness about “election integrity,” she says — as well as getting attention for the Green Party. If she reaches her $7 million goal, Stein will have raised nearly double the dough she got during the entire electoral cycle in only a week.)
Electoral College Extra Credit
The 538 voters who make up the Electoral College will meet on December 19 to officially pick our next president. Although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump easily won the Electoral College, which means that he should, according to the precedent set by all past elections, emerge a victor after next month’s meeting.
But! This is the 2016 election, so we must follow said description of what is supposed to happen with a But!
At least two Democratic electors are trying to get everyone to ignore the College tallies and vote Clinton, or anybody other than Trump, into office instead. These rebellious electors are not Republicans, however, making an overall elector mutiny highly unlikely.
Five presidential candidates have won the popular vote and lost the election, and many Americans have complained that relying on the Electoral College is unfair — including Trump.
Whatever happens with his conspiracy theories or the Electoral College vote, Trump may keep finding ways to talk about this election forever; as Politico reports, “Even though he’s won and it shouldn’t matter, he isn’t letting it go.” Long live 2016.