Jeramey Jannene

No Ballots Counted On First Day of Recount

Trump campaign presents many challenges to recount process.

By - Nov 20th, 2020 06:16 pm
A City of Milwaukee poll worker raises her marker for clerk support while a Trump campaign observer objects to a absentee ballot envelope during the 2020 presidential recount. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

A City of Milwaukee poll worker raises her marker for clerk support while a Trump campaign observer objects to a absentee ballot envelope during the 2020 presidential recount. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

The first day of Milwaukee County’s presidential recount involved no actual ballot counting.

Scheduled to run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Wisconsin Center’s exhibition hall, the election board meeting to initiate the process was delayed until 10 a.m. because of long security, temperature checks and registration lines for the hundreds of poll workers and observers.

But that delay was minor compared to other issues encountered as the Donald Trump campaign, led by attorney Stewart Karge, requested eight protocol changes designed to set up a potential legal challenge to a large number of absentee ballots.

The three-member board of the county election commission, made up of two Democrats and one Republican under state law, spent hours in closed session before accepting many requests from the campaign. The commission ultimately accepted requests to segregate absentee ballot envelopes with mismatched ink colors and for voters self-declared as indefinitely confined.

Commission chair Tim Posnanski, a Democrat, said the acceptance wasn’t an agreement with the objections of the Trump campaign, but to create a more efficient challenge process.

At approximately 2:45 p.m., the suburban communities present to recount their ballots were given instructions on how to proceed.

Poll workers, provided by each municipality, checked absentee envelope totals and voter logs to ensure they matched reported ward totals. No community progressed far enough to count ballots.

The City of Milwaukee began its work shortly thereafter, but not before posing one of the first clerk-initiated questions of the day, relating to whether or not a handful of ballots could be counted.

City Election Director Claire Woodall-Vogg secured commission approval to count 73 in-person absentee ballots (commonly called early votes) where the poll worker who serves as witness failed to sign the witness signature line. The ballots have a preprinted witness address for City Hall. During the November 4th counting process they were rejected.

A 2016 Wisconsin Elections Commission ruling said they should be counted, a fact noted by county corporation counsel Margaret Daun. “I am familiar with it as well, and I disagree,” said Republican commissioner Rick Baas. But he was overruled by the commissioners.

The body voted on a 2-1 party-line vote to accept the previously uncounted absentee ballots.

The commission, on another party-line vote, did reject the Trump campaign’s request to subpoena electronic records from the Wisconsin Elections Commission related to online absentee ballot requests. The Trump campaign was seeking to have every form of a request for an absentee ballot provided to them, but the electronic requests are made on a state website. “We do not have custody, possession or control of these records,” said Posnanski.

Written applications will be made available to the campaign, as well records related to the tabulation machines dating back to November 2nd.

The Joe Biden campaign repeatedly objected to the Trump campaign’s attempts to change the process.

“The Trump campaign is trying to rewrite the rules of the game after it has been played,” said Biden attorney Christopher Meuler. “If you want to change the rules of the game, you can change it for the next game. But you don’t change the rules of the game after it has already been played.”

Objecting to Objections

An objection to an in-person absentee curbside ballot (marked as such on the envelope) triggered a hearing before the board.

A Trump observer repeatedly asked a city poll worker to set it aside for a future challenge, with the poll worker calling in Woodall-Vogg for an opinion. She demanded the poll worker submit a challenge to resolve the issue on whether it should be put aside.

“I am concerned about having processes and procedures where our recount process can begin,” said Woodall-Vogg to the commission. “It would honestly be easier to set aside all absentee ballots at this point.” She said work was being halted by repeated challenges made to poll workers.

The process called for any objections to be signaled to a party attorney and brought to the board in the middle of the room. Counting was to continue while debate over the objection took place.

Shortly after 4:00 p.m. the Trump and Biden campaign legal teams were walking the aisles with the commissioners to review what was happening.

The Trump campaign repeatedly objected to the objection process. The campaign wanted any ballot subject to an objection to be immediately set aside

A deputy Trump attorney inaccurately told multiple members of the media that their discussions in front of the poll workers and commissioners were subject to attorney-client privilege. No press members left the area as a result.

After a circular discussion on the objection process between the many attorneys present and a growing crowd of observers, Baas yelled “clear this floor now. Don’t look around. Don’t be confused. Clear the floor in the observation areas.” Those seated were allowed to stay.

Baas said he was fed up and asked Meueler and Kargle to come up with a suitable objection process.

As the clock hit 5:00 p.m., Meueler told the commission that he was working on possible solutions with Karge. “We are still working on the best procedure,” he said.

Posnanski said the Trump campaign objections to visibility through the plexiglass dividers atop the table were unfounded.

“Based on what I saw and observed, I didn’t see any issues for observers from three feet away to observe through plexiglass what was going on,” said Posnanski.

At approximately 5:10 p.m. poll workers were told to stop for the day. The commission continued to deliberate, addressing absentee ballot envelope issues with stickers falling off, missing dates and other concerns.

Any commission ruling can be appealed to the state circuit court system.

The recount is scheduled by law to be completed by December 1st. A one-day break is scheduled for Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26th.

Each of the 18 suburbs, with staggered starting dates, were scheduled to complete their work in one day. The city was originally expected to wrap up its work by November 23rd. The impact of Friday’s delay on the city’s timeline is unclear.

The commission adjourned at 5:30 p.m., to return at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.

Joe Biden currently leads Trump by 20,608 votes across Wisconsin and 182,913 votes in Milwaukee County. A 2016 statewide recount changed the presidential results by just 131 votes.

The only other county subject to a recount is Dane County. The Trump campaign submitted a $3 million wire transfer earlier this week to pay for the work.

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More about the 2020 General Election

Read more about 2020 General Election here

More about the Presidential Recount

Read more about Presidential Recount here

Categories: Politics

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