But there is more at stake than just the outcome of the election, said Paul Leonard, a political science instructor at Wright State University and a former Dayton mayor. If the recounts reveal substantial vote tampering, voting machine malfunctions, miscounts or other Election Day mischief, there could be nationwide ramifications, he said.
The recounts are the first candidate-initiated recounts in a presidential election since 2000.
The disputed Florida count in the 2000 presidential election hinged on a close vote in a problem-plagued election and resulted in Republican George Bush winning the presidency despite Democratic Vice President Al Gore's national popular vote win.
On Wednesday Reform Party presidential nominee Rocque De La Fuente filed for a recount in Nevada, which Clinton narrowly won. He is reportedly considering asking for a recount in Florida — with its coveted trove of 29 electoral votes — which Trump won by nearly 120,000 votes.
“I’m only interested in validating the election and exposing the vulnerabilities I believe exist in our current system. I’m not trying to change the results,” De La Fuente said on his website. “If that happens, so be it, but I’m not trying to force it.”
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein initiated the three-state recount online fund raising effort last week and so far has raised nearly twice as much as the $3.5 million she collected in her failed bid for president. Many states require those requesting recounts to pay costs, but taxpayers will foot about $4 million of the bill in Michigan.
Stein said on her website that recounts are needed to ensure that the election results are reliable. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which use a mix of electronic touch screen voting machines and optical scan paper ballots, her team questioned the accuracy of electronic voting machines. In Michigan, which uses optical scan paper ballots, Stein is questioning the “under vote,” ballots which were cast with no vote for president.
Under votes occur in every election and may be higher this year because of the high unfavorability ratings of the two major candidates, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State..
Stein, who did not respond to requests for comment, offered no solid evidence of cyber-hacking or other manipulation of election results.
Two pro-Trump political action committees and a voter in Wisconsin on Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison challenging the recount. In Michigan, Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, sued on Friday to stop it in that state and Trump supporters also took legal action in Pennsylvania on Thursday to stop a recount, according to the Associated Press.
Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Cedarville University Center for Political Studies, suggested that Stein may be pushing the recounts for reasons that go beyond election integrity.
“If I had to guess I would say this is a way to fund-raise through the back door,” he said. “I’m not saying it is corrupt, but it gives her resources to stay relevant for a while.”
Stein finished a distant fourth in the election but did play a spoiler role, said Daniel R. Birdsong, political science lecturer at the University of Dayton. In key states like Wisconsin and Michigan, Stein’s vote totals surpassed the margin of difference between Trump and Clinton.
Elections officials in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have defended the integrity of the vote. And the Clinton team's own lawyer — Marc Elias — said in a post on Medium that the campaign's analysis of the election found no indication of cyber-hacking or attempts to alter voting equipment or technology. He said Clinton's team would participate in the recount process to ensure it "proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides."
Trump received more electoral votes based on the states he won, but Clinton is on track to win the national popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes. The U.S. Constitution gives the Electoral College final say and electors are expected to pick Trump on Dec. 19.
Trump took to Twitter to denounce the recount effort, saying the Green Party was engaging in a “scam to fill up their coffers.” Trump went on to say that he was robbed of the popular vote because “millions of people” voted illegally.
Trump said Virginia, California and New Hampshire, all won by Clinton, had "serious fraud." But he and his campaign have provided no evidence and his claims have been widely debunked by fact-checkers.
Leonard and other experts said they hope the recount effort gives the public some assurance that their votes are safe.
“It will hopefully lead to confirmation that the system worked as it should and that election officials did their job admirably,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a new non-profit working to improve how elections are run.
No one is calling for a recount in Ohio, where Trump won by 8.1 percentage points, and elections experts praised the state for running its elections well.
“Ohio is a wonderful example,” said Becker. “You’ve got really good bipartisan boards (and) a secretary of state’s office that’s working very well with them.”