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Trump campaign to request recounts in Dane, Milwaukee Co., wires $3M to WEC

President-elect Biden currently holds a 20,608 vote lead in Wisconsin
Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:09 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:41 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - President Donald Trump wants votes recounted in two of Wisconsin’s most Democratic-leaning counties, but not necessarily because his campaign believes the original counts were wrong. Instead, the Trump campaign claims each of the counties engaged in illegal conduct when issuing and accepting absentee ballots.

On Wednesday a lawyer representing the Trump Campaign filed the petition after paying the Wisconsin Elections Commission the $3 million needed to cover the partial recount. A total statewide recount would have cost the campaign $7.9 million.

The recount, once formally approved by the elections commission chair, could start as soon as Thursday and no later than Saturday. It would have to be complete by Dec. 1.

Dane Co. Clerk Scott McDonell stated Wednesday morning that the recount would start Friday at Monona Terrace. He estimated it will take approximately 12 days and noted that the county has been recruiting tabulators.

Despite presenting no clear evidence of wrongdoing, Trump’s campaign implied votes ultimately getting thrown out could make up for his 20,000 vote trail behind Joe Biden.

According to official election numbers from the Wisconsin Elections Commission:

Dane Co.Milwaukee Co.
Pres.-elect Joe Biden260,185317,7880
President Donald Trump78,800134,357

Recounts in Wisconsin and across the country have historically resulted in very few vote changes. A 2016 presidential recount in Wisconsin netted Trump an additional 131 votes. A UW Madison political science professor, David Canon, detailed the move to get a partial recount could be more of a political power move.

“The average margin of votes changing in a statewide recount in the last 20 years is 400 votes,” Canon said.

Canon said many of the concerns brought up in the petition would not be mended by a recount, rather address legalities that would need to be taken to court to change. For example, it stated clerks wrongly added information on returned absentee ballots, a claim that has been refuted by the state’s top election official.

“In a recount, all you are doing is recounting the ballots to make sure they were recorded properly, and so the kinds of issues they raised in this petition again read more like a court filing,” Canon said.

On Wednesday night, the WEC met for several hours debating what guidance they should give to clerks for the recount given what is included in the petition.

Dean Knudson, a Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, argued the best way to be transparent in the process, is to separate any ballots Trump observers might question.

“In this case the petitioner very definitely believes that something illegal happened and this is going to be for the courts to decide. I don’t believe it is for us to decide, but what is for us to decide is to give the proper guidance so that those ballots are set aside,” Knudson said.

Democrat commissioner Mark Thomsen said the same rules should apply in this election as they followed in 2016.

“What you are asking, Dean, is that we highlight and assert that somehow the clerks that followed the rules we’ve had in 11 elections did an illegal act. There is no way we are going to do that,” Thomsen said.

Knudson explained if the Trump campaign were to request only certain counties or municipalities be recounted, the leading candidate, i.e. President-elect Joe Biden, could request the remaining districts be counted.

The campaign accuses elections officials of illegally altering absentee ballots, illegally issuing absentee ballots, and giving illegal advice that would allow Wisconsin Voter ID laws to be circumvented. The Trump campaign said it picked those two heavily Democratic counties because “they are the locations of the worst irregularities.” The state’s top elections chief and local officials have said there were no substantial reports of problems or wrongdoing.

“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way. Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements,” said the lawyer who filed the petition for the Trump Campaign, Jim Troupis.

State and local election officials have already refuted the initial claim that ballots were illegally altered after conservatives raised the issue last week. They claimed the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) should not have told clerks they could add the witness address to absentee ballot certificate envelopes.

However, the WEC said in a statement, “The law says a witness address needs to be present on the certificate to be accepted and the ballot to be counted.” The WEC said the law does not specify who can add the address.

The Dane County clerk said poll workers and clerks followed state law in curing absentee ballots. The law has been in place since 2016.

Insofar as the allegations that municipal clerks across the state issued absentee ballots without requiring an application, the Trump campaign did not give any specific examples in Dane Co., Milwaukee Co., or any other county across the state. McDonell indicated they may not be familiar with Wisconsin’s absentee procedures and addressed the Madison drop boxes, which despite being initially questioned, were not challenged in court.

Without providing any evidence, the Trump campaign also accused Democratic county clerks of telling people to “illegally mischaracterize” their situation and say they were indefinitely confined. The campaign noted that the number of people claiming that status increased three-fold from 72,000 in 2019, which was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, to over 240,000 by this Election Day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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