The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jill Stein’s doomed recount effort is fading. And she still can’t quite explain why she did it.

There's one question that has always lingered about Jill Stein's efforts to force recounts in three key states that Donald Trump won narrowly: Why those three states, specifically? Why not New Hampshire, a state that Hillary Clinton won by 0.4 percent, or Minnesota, where she won by 1.5 percent?

Trump, after all, was accused of cherry-picking states where he alleged voter fraud was happening — states that, conveniently, Clinton happened to win. Isn't Stein doing the same by isolating states that Trump just happened to win — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin? It's not Stein's job to help Clinton, after all, and she insists she's not.

I asked the Stein campaign this question a while back and got no response. Luckily, Neil Cavuto of Fox News pressed her on it Wednesday.

Stein didn't have great answers.

CAVUTO: So, why did you pick those three states, and not, let's say, Florida, or California, or North Carolina?
STEIN: Yes. So, let me point out, when we picked Michigan, it did not have a winner. So, it could very well have been a Hillary Clinton state. But these were the states that were basically red-flagged because they have either very problematic voting systems and voting machines or they had particular indicators that are red flags.

That first part is technically true, but Trump looked to be the clear favorite to carry Michigan after election night. The latter part of this answer argues that there is something unique about these states — irrespective of the candidate who won. Again, this would be a pretty big coincidence.

Cavuto kept pressing:

CAVUTO: But there were closer states than even these, Jill — right, I mean — that Hillary Clinton ended up winning. So why didn't you go there? Why didn't you go there?
STEIN: Not very many. So, the indicators that they look for, if they want to see some kind of machine error or foul play or tampering, you look for a couple of indicators. So, one is close race. You also look for an outcome which is the opposite of what was suggested by the polls and exit polls.

Stein is right that not many states were closer than Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump's margin was 0.7 percent, and Michigan, where it was 0.2 percent. But New Hampshire was very close, too — a 0.4-point Clinton win.

A federal judge sides with a state appeals court, saying the Green Party's Jill Stein does not have grounds to pursue a recount of votes cast in Michigan (Video: Reuters)

And it's worth pointing out that these aren't the only states where the final result differed hugely from pre-election polls. In Minnesota, Clinton led by double digits in the final poll and won by just 1.5 points. In Ohio, the final Real Clear Politics margin was Trump +2. He won the state by eight points. In Indiana, Trump was +11. He won the state by 19.

In other words, he over-performed the polls up and down the Rust Belt, from Pennsylvania all the way through the Midwest and into Minnesota. If differing from late polls is an indicator of something amiss, it would also seem to extend to states like Minnesota or even states that Trump won by much larger margins. Stein isn't pressing for recounts in those states.

Stein does concede that part of the motivation for her is a state being a “close race.” But Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are merely the states that decided the presidential race. What about a close Senate race that Democrats won in New Hampshire, or razor-close governor's race that Democrats won in North Carolina?

In other words, there were many other places where such alleged voter fraud could have mattered but where Stein hasn't bothered with pursuing recounts. She happens to have picked states where it would specifically prevent Trump from winning. That certainly helped her raise money for the effort, but it remains a strange coincidence.

“This is not about helping” Clinton, Stein assured Cavuto. “It's not about hurting Donald. This is about addressing the serious doubts that the American people have that they can trust the voting” process.

In the end, Stein's recount effort appears to be fizzling out. It has moved only 82 votes in Wisconsin, and a judge has shut down the Michigan recount. Maybe she'll pursue recounts in these other places when it's done.