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Wisconsin’s Presidential Recount Continues With Only Small Changes To Vote Totals

Early Numbers Show Net Change Of 52 Votes In Favor Of President Donald Trump

A woman in a US flag face mask and face shield speaks to two other election observers
Election officials work behind plexiglass Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s partial presidential recount continued in Dane and Milwaukee counties on Wednesday with only small changes reported to vote totals so far.

According to numbers released Wednesday morning by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have lost votes during the recount, but Trump has lost 52 fewer votes than Biden. Biden went into the recount with a margin of victory of about 20,600 votes.

The largest change occurred in the Town of Westport, where Biden lost 28 votes and Trump lost 8.

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According to an explanation provided by the Elections Commission, the Westport changes were due to “absentee certificates found to be missing the witness address, 3 missing the witness signature and 1 missing the voter signature.”

On Tuesday, workers at Milwaukee County’s recount site uncovered nearly 400 ballots that hadn’t previously been opened or counted. Those ballots will be included in the city of Milwaukee’s recount tally, which will be reported to the Elections Commission after the recounting of all city wards is complete.

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said in a prepared statement on Wednesday that the Milwaukee County recount was “back on track” after initial delays caused by “several lengthy objections” from the Trump campaign and observers affiliated with the campaign.

“Things are running very smoothly,” Christenson said.

The recount began last week. As it has progressed, the president’s campaign has objected to large categories of ballots, attempting to have them disqualified from the recount. Those efforts have so far been unsuccessful, with the three-member boards of canvassers in both Dane and Milwaukee counties voting to reject their arguments.

On Tuesday evening in Madison, the Trump campaign attempted to have ballots thrown out that were returned during Madison’s “Democracy in the Park” events. Those events, held on two Saturdays in late September and early October, offered voters an opportunity to return or fill out absentee ballots they had already received in the mail. According to the Madison clerk’s office, about 17,000 ballots were returned during the events.

Jim Troupis, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, argued the events qualified as illegal early voting.

“It appears to us as a fairly obvious attempt to get around Wisconsin’s requirements for absentee voting,” Troupis said. “In effect, (the events were) in-person voting going on during two days well in advance of the deadline that is set by the statute.”

State law doesn’t allow early voting to begin in Wisconsin until Oct. 20.

Madison City Attorney Michael Haas, who was formerly the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, argued the events didn’t qualify as early voting because no new ballots were issued. Voters were only given the opportunity to turn in or fill out ballots they had already received in the mail.

A lawyer for the Biden campaign and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell agreed.

McDonell said the events basically provided “human dropboxes” for absentee ballots. Many communities across the state offered dropboxes for absentee ballots in the lead up to Election Day.

“There should be a high bar to disqualify someone’s vote,” he said.

McDonell and his Democratic colleague on the Dane County Board of Canvassers, Allen Arntsen, voted to throw out the Trump campaign’s objection. The board’s Republican member, Joyce Waldrop, voted in favor of the objection.

Similar decisions on other Trump campaign objections during the recount could be fodder for a lawsuit after the re-tallying is complete. On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed before the state Supreme Court seeking to throw out Wisconsin’s presidential election results. That lawsuit is unrelated to the recount.

The recount must finish by Dec. 1, when the Wisconsin Elections Commission is scheduled to meet to certify the state’s election results. Both McDonell and Christenson have said they believe they will meet the deadline.

Christenson said that as of Wednesday afternoon about 413,000 out of the roughly 460,000 ballots cast in the county had been re-tallied.

Wisconsin’s 2016 statewide presidential recount resulted in a net change of 131 votes in favor of Trump. According to results certified by counties last week, Biden defeated Trump by 20,608 votes in Wisconsin this year.

The Trump campaign requested the recount last week, citing “illegally issued” and “illegally altered” absentee ballots across the state, arguing those things happened at particularly high levels in the state’s Democratic strongholds of Dane and Milwaukee counties.

Election officials have said for weeks there has been no evidence of fraud or irregularities in the election.