Recount Day Two Brings Objections, Gridlock
Ballot processing does start, but Trump campaign continues submitting objections.
The second day of Milwaukee County’s presidential recount appeared to be off to a smooth start after the first day ended with no ballots being counted. But that didn’t last.
Work began shortly after 9 a.m. with the commission adopting new guidelines, agreed to by both the Joe Biden and Donald Trump campaigns, that allowed observers to object to ballots or absentee envelopes at the counting table and have them placed aside.
This replaced a process where an observer had to signal a runner to alert the campaign legal team at the front of the room to object to the commission. The Trump campaign said Friday afternoon that the process would result in the ballots or absentee envelopes being lost in the shuffle.
Ballots or envelopes set aside, including those automatically set aside with mismatched ink or from an indefinitely confined voter, would be brought by municipal clerks to the campaign legal teams for review and a possible challenge to the commission once the ward was completed. Even if the commission overruled the challenge, the Trump campaign provided envelopes to store the challenged envelopes or ballots in the event of a future legal challenge.
The commission rulings allow the ballots to be counted in the recount, but the storage envelopes will preserve the ballots for a potential court challenge.
“We have gone through a lot of effort to make sure the process is transparent,” said Rick Baas, the lone Republican on the three-member county commission. “Yesterday was clumsy, it was not intended to be clumsy.”
But it didn’t take long for that new, unanimously adopted process to break down.
Trump campaign observers challenged a large number of City of Milwaukee absentee envelopes. City of Milwaukee election commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg said observers had objected to every envelope in wards one and five on the city’s far northwest side. She said objections were made because poll workers did not immediately show paper records of the request. An agreement reached yesterday would have the county, via the municipalities, provide those records separately during the process.
It was only the tip of the iceberg.
“Right now we are at a complete standstill,” said consultant and former city director Neil Albrecht of Milwaukee’s processing. He said an observer had gone down the row in one of the aisles at the Wisconsin Center exhibition hall that Albrecht was supervising and objected to every absentee request.
Woodall-Vogg also said that a Trump observer had reclassified herself as an independent so she could serve as a second observer at multiple tables. Urban Milwaukee previously observed the county clerk’s office ask tables with multiple observers from the Trump campaign to limit themselves to one.
The commission voted unanimously to remove the independent observer chair, leaving one chair for the Trump campaign and one for another non-Trump-affiliated observer.
The Trump campaign legal team, led by attorney Stewart Karge, said it was not advancing challenges on every ballot and would like to review them.
After review, the campaign dropped six objections from Ward 1. Trump legal team member Ken Dragotta said there were envelopes with notations found to have no bearing on the ballot.
On multiple occasions the Trump campaign asked for the entire process to be halted. A deputy attorney for the campaign said that poll workers were not following rules to put ballots aside upon request.
“I think that particular motion is solely imposed to slow this process down,” said deputy Biden attorney Chris Trebatoski.
The commission voted down the request on a party-line vote.
At Milwaukee County corporation counsel Margaret Daun‘s suggestion, every municipal clerk present had to announce for the record that they understood the rules. Led by Woodall-Vogg, the all-female contingent, one after another, said they did.
“If there are specific irregularities you would like us to address you can bring those to us,” said Posnanski.
Poll workers were encouraged to slow down to make sure their work could be observed, but not stopped.
Every Folded Ballot
Things reached a boiling point in the morning when county elections director Julietta Henry took to the microphone to interrupt the meeting.
“They are objecting to every absentee ballot that is folded,” said Henry. Absentee ballots are folded when placed into envelopes.
The issue was related to a Trump campaign objection in Brown Deer.
“Can we get some common sense?” asked Posnanski.
The Trump campaign attorneys said they would need to review the observer’s objection first to see if they wanted to formally advance it.
The Cudahy clerk said she had an entire district (a collection of wards) halted because a Trump observer was objecting to the numbers of piles of objected materials. She was instructed to continue counting, despite the piles and challenge to them.
The commission voted 2-0-1, with Baas voting “present,” to block blanket challenges to ballots.
Despite the controversy, poll workers could be observed processing ballots around noon.
Milwaukee County Clerk George L. Christenson said he was observing a disconnect between Trump observers, attorneys serving as runners and the legal team before the commission. “It’s not our job to train their observers,” said Christenson of the discord.
A Rejected Bayside Ballot
At various points in the proceedings, municipal clerks would present batches of envelopes with similar issues for commission review.
Bayside presented a previously counted (on election day) absentee envelope that lacked a witness address. The commission voted to reject it. What happens? When the ballots for that ward are counted, the commission, under state law, will strike a random ballot. Bayside processes its absentee ballots alongside its in-person ballots and can not trace the specific ballot back.
City of Milwaukee absentee ballots, which are counted at a central count facility, are numbered allowing the specific ballot to be struck in such a situation.
Woodall-Vogg presented absentee envelopes Friday with a similar issue, an imperfect witness signature. In the city’s case a clerk’s witness signature was missing, which prevented them from being counted on election day. She said the approval would add an estimated 73 votes to the city’s prior total. A party-line vote added them to the record.
For details on Friday’s proceedings, see our earlier coverage.
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