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Officials, Observers Begin Work In Wisconsin’s Presidential Recount

Trump Campaign Lawyer: 'This Is All Unnecessary'

Morry Gash/AP Photo

County election officials across Wisconsin kicked off work on the state’s presidential recount Thursday.

Dane County, the most populous county in the state conducting a hand recount of all its ballots, began at 8:30 a.m.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said he believes a hand recount will help reassure some voters the process is sound.

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“I have total confidence in the equipment we use and the processes we have,” McDonell said. “So they’ll sync up at the end of the day, but that’s what you can only show when you’re done.”

McDonell has 36 tabulators working the recount, many who served as chief inspectors at polling places Election Day. They will work 12-hour days and through the weekend to meet the state’s Dec. 12 recount deadline.

Two observers representing each presidential candidate on the ballot are allowed to watch recount proceedings as they happen.

John Sweeney, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, observed Dane County operations Thursday. He said he was impressed by McDonell’s organization, but still had concerns about Dane County meeting the Dec. 12 deadline.

“The concern that we have is with the volume there is to be counted, that they’re not going to make the deadline,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney also expressed disagreement with the recount in general.

“This is specious and this is an exercise in futility, frankly,” he said. “It’s malarkey. This is nothing more than an attempt to disenfranchise the voters of Wisconsin.”

Tabulators work on recount Thursday in the Walworth County government building in Elkhorn. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR.

In Waukesha County, the county’s Board of Canvassers struck down a member’s request to recount the ballots by hand instead of by machine.

The decision to stay with a machine count came as a disappointment to recount observer Thomas Gilding, who said he’s a Hillary Clinton supporter.

“I really worry about machines,” Gilding said. “I also really worry about Waukesha County. In fact throughout the nation, people say you’ve been ‘Waukesha’d’ … you know in the election. I’m not saying these people are dishonest, but I’m concerned about a lot of things in this election.”

Five years ago, the then-Waukesha County Clerk at first neglected to add in thousands of ballots that favored Incumbent State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. The clerk later counted the ballots, giving Prosser a lead that held up through a statewide recount.

Waukesha County’s current clerk, Kathleen Novack, insisted Thursday that the machine recount of the presidential race will be just as accurate as a hand recount would have been, and take much less time.

In 10 Wisconsin counties, the presidential election recount is not a question of counting it by hand or using a machine. It’s some of both.

Ten people sitting around a table were getting ready Thursday to count a stack of paper ballots by hand in Walworth County. Most of the ballots,though, will be put through voting machines. The county’s deputy corporation counsel Michael Cotter said the hand count is mainly for ballots from smaller communities.

“If there’s (a) small amount of ballots cast, they can count it quicker than running it through a machine,” Cotter said. “If you run it through a machine, you have to publicly test the machine and it takes some time.”

Cotter also said if observers object to a particular ballot, it may be hand counted.

Meanwhile in Jefferson County, a colleague entered the numbers on a desk calculator as Jefferson County Clerk Barbara Frank read the adjusted total for a ward in the city of Watertown.

Frank said Trump and Clinton gained a few votes as recount officials decided to include machine-rejected ballots where the voter had both filled in the circle next to the candidate’s name and written the name at the bottom of the ballot.

“The voter intent’s very clear on that,” Frank said. “That’s who they wanted to vote for and I don’t know why they chose to do it as a write in, too. Or they just misunderstood. Those things happen.”

Volunteer observers watching the recount said they had no objection to including those ballots. Frank said she believes Jefferson County will stay on track to finish the recount by the deadline.

Sullivan resident Bill Tarman-Ramcheck spent hours Thursday at the Jefferson County Courthouse where the recount is taking place.

He’s said he’s politically independent, but voted for Clinton. The retired sociology instructor said he plans to volunteer each day of the recount.

“It’s part of an obligation to turn some frustration into positive action,” Tarman-Ramcheck said. “The thing I was always telling my students about big global problems and everything else is you don’t just throw up your hands and say there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Tarman-Ramcheck said he’s a volunteer observer for Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign, which paid the $3.5 million cost of the recount.

“Americans deserve a voting system we can believe in – that is accurate, secure and transparent, and that counts every vote,” Stein said in a prepared statement released Thursday morning.

Stein had pushed for a hand recount in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, but a judge rejected that earlier this week.

While many counties began recounting their presidential ballots, Bayfield County Clerk Scott Fibert said they won’t start counting ballots until Monday. Fibert said that’s because they didn’t meet a requirement to notify the public 24 hours in advance of the recount. The county plans to count votes by hand and by machine.

“If there is any issue with our machine, the best way for us to find out about it is actually use the machine ourselves,” Fibert said. “So I want to find out if we have an issue, and know how to address it. So we will be using the machine but also will be auditing those by, if the machine says 300 votes for Clinton or Trump, I want us to be able to hand count 300 Clinton or Trump votes by grabbing the ballots.”

Fibert said he has been getting pushback from some community members about the recount because they say they’re fine with the results. He said they expect to complete the recount by Tuesday afternoon. Northwestern Wisconsin counties have reported a wide range of costs for the recount from as little as $700 in Iron County to almost $58,000 in Douglas County.

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