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Trump Campaign Requests Recount In Dane, Milwaukee Counties

Campaign Has Already Submitted $3M For Partial Recount

two workers sit at a table and sort ballots
Milwaukee Central Count workers count absentee ballots Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

President Donald Trump’s campaign has filed for a partial recount of the presidential election in Wisconsin, targeting the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Dane counties, the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

The Elections Commission also confirmed the Trump campaign has already submitted the required $3 million payment for the partial recount.

Meagan Wolfe, head of the commission, acknowledged “the eyes of the world” will be on Wisconsin in the coming weeks.

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“We remain committed to providing information about the process and assisting our county clerks by providing facts on the mechanics of a recount and status updates,” Wolfe said in a prepared statement.

The Trump campaign’s recount request cites “illegally altered” absentee ballots, “illegally issued” absentee ballots, and “illegal advice” related to Wisconsin’s voter ID law from government officials. It also claims observers were required to be too far away from poll workers at Milwaukee’s central count location to be able to effectively observe the processing of absentee ballots.

“Petitioners are informed and believe that mistakes and fraud were committed throughout the state of Wisconsin, including particularly in the City of Madison, the City of Milwaukee and throughout Dane County and Milwaukee County in the counting and return of votes cast in the election for President of the United States,” the recount petition read.

Wolfe has said no evidence of voter fraud or irregularities have been brought forward in Wisconsin.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the recount a “futile attempt to destroy democracy.”

“This is flat out an attack on cities and democracy and places where people of color live,” Barrett said. “Don’t let anybody fool you that this is about irregularities.”

Meanwhile, Milwaukee County Elections Director Julietta Henry welcomed the opportunity for Milwaukee election officials to prove the accuracy of their work.

We want to make sure we preserve the integrity of the election,” said Henry on a separate call with reporters. “In Wisconsin we believe in good government, and that means open and honest government and elections.”

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell echoed that sentiment.

“We went through this recount (process) four years ago with the Trump campaign, and they said at that time that I ran an excellent recount,” McDonell said.

Wisconsin’s 2016 presidential recount, paid for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, resulted in a net change of 131 votes, in favor of the president.

Officials Have Previously Pushed Back On Issues Cited In Trump’s Recount Request

The “illegally altered” absentee ballots referenced by the Trump campaign in its recount request are absentee ballot envelopes that were missing required information, like a witness address. In some cases, local election officials added that information.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved guidance for clerks that allows them to add missing information to absentee ballot envelopes based on “reliable information,” like contacting a voter or referencing government records. Under state law, absentee ballot envelopes must include a voter’s signature and address, as well as a witness signature and address. In some cases, voters failed to include the witness’ address.

Wolfe said last week the policy was backed by a unanimous vote of commission members, including GOP appointees, in 2016.

In its recount request, the Trump campaign also argues “more than 60,000” absentee ballots were issued in Milwaukee County without an absentee ballot application.

“There’s no proof of that,” Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said Wednesday. “I would encourage them to provide proof. These are unfounded scenarios.”

Christenson said every municipality in Milwaukee County “followed state guidelines and procedures” for election administration.

“Essentially, the strategy here by the Trump campaign is to throw as much paint at the wall (as possible) and see what sticks,” he said. “It’s a haphazard approach at best. We follow (Wisconsin Elections Commission) guidelines, our municipal clerks follow all the rules.”

The “illegal advice” referenced by the Trump campaign in the recount request were social media posts in March by Christenson and McDonell. That advice, related to absentee ballot applications, hasn’t been given since March. Clerks acknowledged their error.

The incorrect advice given in March told voters who weren’t leaving home because of the COVID-19 pandemic they qualified as “indefinitely confined.” Indefinitely confined voters in Wisconsin can submit an absentee ballot application without providing a copy of a valid ID for voting, like a driver’s license.

Republicans argued that advice was too broad and was aimed at skirting the state’s voter ID law. The state Supreme Court weighed in on the issue, siding with the GOP, in late March.

The court ordered clerks to only issue advice approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission guidance indicates that “indefinitely confined status is for each individual voter to make based upon their current circumstances.”

“I altered what I had written back in March,” McDonell said in a press conference Wednesday, noting officials sent letters to voters after the spring election to confirm their indefinitely confined status. “That issue has nothing to do with the November election.”

The Trump campaign’s recount request argues “the damage was already done and could not be corrected.”

Elections Commission Spars Over Recount Guidance

After several hours of arguing over official Elections Commission guidance to clerks, commissioners voted late Wednesday night to order the recount.

Republican commissioners raised concerns about the enforcement of local public health department orders during the recount, saying things like social distancing might interfere with observers’ ability to monitor the action.

Commissioner Dean Knudson, who was appointed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he believed observers should be exempt from public health requirements. Commissioners appointed by Democratic lawmakers pushed back on that. No such exemptions were approved.

The commission also largely disagreed over what language should be included or altered in its official recount manual, which clerks use to guide their work. Ultimately, the commission approved the official recount order without including a reference to the manual.

Wolfe noted the manual is just guidance — ultimately, county clerks are in charge of making decisions about adhering to state law during the recount.

Under the commission’s order, the recount must begin by Saturday. Officials in both Dane and Milwaukee counties said they plan to begin on Friday and will work, taking only Thanksgiving Day off, until the recount is complete. They said the proceedings will be livestreamed for members of the public who are unable to attend and observe in person.

Dane County will complete its recount by a combination of hand counting and machine counting. Milwaukee County will use machines.

According to estimates provided to the Elections Commission by the county clerks, the Dane County recount is expected to cost $740,808 and the Milwaukee County recount $2,039,030. Any unused funds will be refunded to the Trump campaign after the completion of the recount.

The recount must be completed by Tuesday, Dec. 1, according to the Elections Commission.

According to certified results from county clerks finalized Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump by 20,608 votes in Wisconsin.

Editor’s note: Corri Hess contributed reporting to this story.

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