Absentee Ballots Give Biden Lead in Wisconsin
3 a.m. delivery of Milwaukee absentee ballots puts Biden in front of Trump.
Wisconsin’s status as a battleground state was cemented on election day. Unofficial results from the Associated Press have Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by 20,748 votes, reversing an approximately 23,000 vote victory for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Biden appeared to spend much of election night down by over 100,000 votes to Trump in the race for Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes. But that was only because of a sequencing issue with what ballots are counted first.
Well after 2 a.m. over 200,000 ballots remained uncounted in Wisconsin, including 169,541 absentee ballots in the city of Milwaukee. In-person election results showed Biden and other Democratic candidates significantly underperforming historical averages in Milwaukee, indicating that the outstanding absentee ballots could hold the key to victory.
At an 8:00 p.m. press conference, Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg estimated that the third shift of 400 workers at the city’s central count facility wouldn’t finish the work until 4:00 a.m.
But by 2:50 a.m., Woodall-Vogg had taken on rockstar status within the downtown office building the city rented to count the ballots.
With the election workforce almost entirely sent home as work wound down, dozens of media members and election observers followed the executive director as she went machine to machine exporting the results. In nearly complete silence, Woodall-Vogg would generate printouts of the results as well as exporting them onto encrypted USB flash drives.
Just after 3:00 a.m., Woodall-Vogg was escorted by multiple police officers to an elevator and out to an awaiting Milwaukee Police Department SUV. She was driven, 12 flash drives and printouts in hand, to the Milwaukee County Courthouse to submit the results to the Milwaukee County Election Commission.
The city’s in-person results had beaten her there by almost five hours, arriving via modem transmission from each of the 173 polling places. But only 32 percent (78,160) of city voters cast a ballot in person on election day.
To submit the absentee results, the city had to wait for all absentee ballots to arrive before sorting them. Over 3,000 absentee ballots came in on election day, including a couple dozen from a dropbox that arrived via a high-speed police escort from Good Hope Library on the city’s Far Northwest Side to Downtown to make an 8:00 p.m. deadline.
Woodall-Vogg walked into the county courthouse the same way she left the central count facility, with a flock of reporters and cameras in tow. After a brief press conference with county election director Julietta Henry and clerk George L. Christenson, the three went into an office to upload the results.
After resolving a discrepancy with the number of ballots the city had received (attributed to a timing issue with when a ward total was generated), at 4 a.m. the county said all ballots were accounted for.
Biden’s margin over Trump in the city expanded from 66-32 to 79-20 as 143,124 of the 169,541 absentee ballots (84%) went for the Democratic candidate.
When viewed on a statewide basis, Biden suddenly appeared in the lead triggering the anticipated “red mirage” scenario where an early lead for Trump vanished because of the timing of when in-person ballots are reported versus absentee ballots.
But election results were still outstanding from Kenosha and Green Bay, both cities in crucial swing counties.
Voters would have to wait until 6 a.m. to get the results from Brown County, home of Green Bay.
“Reminder – slow results do not mean a problem, just that election officials are doing their jobs to make sure every legitimate ballot is counted accurately,” tweeted the Wisconsin Elections Commission of the long process.
Biden would pick up 4,000 votes from Green Bay, but lose the county by 10,000. A similar situation played out in Kenosha County shortly thereafter, with absentee ballot counting yielding Biden an additional 9,000 votes but Trump winning the county.
Biden, based on unofficial results posted by each county, has a lead of over 20,000 votes.
The results reported Wednesday are unofficial. A formal canvass process starts with each municipality Wednesday and with each county Thursday. It must be completed by November 17th to allow the state to certify all of the results.
Under state law, a candidate can request a recount if the final margin is within one percent but must pay the cost, potentially millions of dollars, if the margin exceeds 0.25%.
The numbers of votes cast in the city of Milwaukee, 247,649, fell short of both the 2012 and 2016 elections (288,459 and 247,836). But Milwaukee County exceeded its 2016 total of 440,247, while falling short of 2012’s total of 492,576.
Wisconsin set an all-time record with over 3.2 million ballots cast.
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Read more about 2020 General Election here