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Green Bay City Council candidate won’t concede despite recount confirming loss

The council is down 1 member as recount process plays out

Green Bay City Hall
Green Bay city hall is seen in this file photo. Photo courtesy of the city of Green Bay

An incumbent Green Bay City Council member is refusing to concede he lost his reelection bid earlier this month despite a recount confirming the results.

Incumbent Alder Steven Campbell said in a court filing he believes “fraud had occurred” in the race.

Alders were supposed to be sworn in at Tuesday’s council meeting, but only 11 of the city’s 12 council members were able to do so — and it’s not clear when the council could return to full strength.

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The temporary vacancy on the council is for the city’s District 6 seat, won by Alder-elect Joey Prestley on April 2.

In the initial vote count, Prestley won 355 votes to Campbell’s 340. Following the recount, Campbell’s total fell by one vote to 339.

Campbell declined to comment for this story.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council President Brian Johnson addressed Prestley’s status.

“I do think it is important to recognize that we do have a missing person right now at our table,” Johnson said. “But obviously, we’ll welcome you when that time is right, and the dust settles and things are figured out.”

Green Bay City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys said Campbell requested a recount last week Thursday. The recount was conducted the following day and found that Campbell lost one vote to a write-in vote.

“Someone had filled in the bubble next to Mr. Campbell’s name and also wrote in a vote, which means the write-in vote supersedes the bubble,” Jeffreys said.

Campbell has until Friday at 5 p.m. to file a formal appeal in Brown County Circuit Court. Prestley cannot be sworn in until Jeffreys files a certificate of election.

She can’t do so until Campbell either waives his right to appeal the recount results, the deadline to file an appeal passes with no appeal or until the appeal is resolved in court.

“Mr. Campbell, according to statute, has the right to file an appeal to circuit court,” Jeffreys said. “The circuit court needs to hear that right away because what’s happening right now is that the people of District 6, who duly elected Mr. Prestley, currently have no representation.”

Prestley said it’s disappointing that the people of his district are not currently represented on the council. But he said he respects the laws in place ensuring the legitimacy of elections.

“I’m going to take any appropriate legal steps that might be necessary to make sure that the voters’ will is reflected when it comes to it,” he said. “But for right now, I’m just following the statutes as they are.”

The same day as the recount, Campbell filed an emergency motion in Brown County Circuit Court seeking a manual hand recount.

In his filing, Campbell said Jeffreys delivered 38 ballots to the city’s central count at 7:50 p.m. on election day after delivering other ballots at 7 p.m. The filing said Campbell believes “38 people did not bring in ballots between 7 and 7:50 pm” and “fraud had occurred.”

“A physical manual count is believed by (Campbell) to give a more accurate result,” the filing stated.

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the deadline for voters to return absentee ballots for the April 2 election was 8 p.m. 

State law says elections officials should recount ballots with “automatic tabulating equipment.” Candidates can file a petition in court for a hand recount, but they must provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the tabulating equipment will produce incorrect recount results.

Jeffreys said a hand recount would be a big lift for the clerk’s office and would likely be less accurate than a machine count due to human error.

“It’s essentially two humans reading a ballot, making tick marks and then counting it up at the end,” she said. 

Mordecai Lee, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a former state legislator, said Campbell is within his rights to request a recount, but it’s unlikely a court appeal or hand recount would change the results.

“There would be enough of a paper trail to confirm that there really were this number of people who came in at the last minute, and there really are these absentee ballot envelopes that confirm when they came in and who they came in from,” he said.

Campbell’s accusations of fraud come after he played a recording of the Jan. 6 Choir — a group of defendants jailed for their alleged roles in the January 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — during a city council meeting last year.

Green Bay had also been a target of unproven allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and protesters gathered outside city hall on Jan. 6, 2021, according to Politico

Lee said Campbell’s actions reflect a “new normal” for Wisconsin’s political landscape, where traditionally nonpartisan elections have grown increasingly partisan in recent years.

“This turns school boards and common councils into sort of mini-Legislatures where ideology prevails,” he said. “As a professor of government, I don’t think this is a healthy development.”

In 17 years of working in local government, Jeffreys said she’s never seen a situation like this where a local official refused to concede and alleged fraud following an election.

She said tens of thousands of people vote in Green Bay every year, and her office does everything possible to ensure free and fair local elections.

“We work very hard to make sure that people have their best Election Day experiences with us,” she said. “We have many, many people who understand the process and who trust in it. And then it’s a very small number of people who don’t.”