Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee County Recount Finished, Dane County Continuing

Biden's margin grows by 132 votes.

By - Nov 27th, 2020 05:33 pm
Observers watch workers at Milwaukee County's presidential recount. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Observers watch workers at Milwaukee County’s presidential recount. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County’s presidential recount has finished after seven days of counting.

After recounting approximately 460,000 ballots, Joe Biden is still the winner. His margin of victory in the state’s largest county grew from 182,913 to 183,045, a change of 132 votes. Both candidates gained votes as a result of the process.

Dane County is still conducting its portion of the recount and is expected to finish on Sunday. Biden led Donald Trump by 20,608 votes in advance of the recount.

The Trump campaign has used the process to establish a record of objections to over 160,000 absentee ballots in Milwaukee County alone and created over 800 exhibits, containing a county-reported 27,365 segregated absentee envelopes, that could be used in a lawsuit.

The Trump campaign is challenging absentee ballots from three different categories: all in-person absentee ballots, 108,947, on the basis of an insufficient application; all applications and absentee ballots cast by voters who declared themselves “indefinitely confined,” particularly after March 25th (approximately 19,000 ballots), on the basis that clerks provided improper guidance; all absentee ballots where clerks completed the witness address (commonly called “mismatched ink” envelopes) on the basis that the address is incomplete and the ballot should be rejected.

In total the campaign filed objections to approximately 160,000 absentee ballots and associated envelopes in the county.

While the county commission voted to accept those envelopes and corresponding ballots, the Trump campaign has had the envelopes segregated by ward into manila envelopes and labeled as exhibits.

Allies of the Trump campaign filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday asking for the election results to be thrown out and the Republican-controlled Legislature allowed to pick the winner. Their suit uses many of the same challenges the Trump campaign has made during the recount.

The Trump campaign could ultimately file its own suit, as it has done in other states. A court could throw out ballots by category of request, dismiss the petition entirely or grant the request in its entirety.

The three-member commission, made up of two Democrats and one Republican, formed itself as a Board of Canvassers for the purposes of the recount.

“I want to thank counsel for both parties for your professional decorum during this process,” said commission chair Tim Posnanski in closing the proceedings. He glossed over the “controversy” over poop-emoji wristbands and a contentious ending to one day’s meeting.

Republican commissioner Rick Baas praised the efforts of those involved, particularly his fellow commissioners.  “We work together well, we disagree on many things,” he said. “Neither one of us has broken faith with our integrity.” He said many decisions stemming from ambiguities would be for a court to decide. “Our election laws need to be tightened up.”

“Our statutes did not anticipate seeing this kind of absentee turnout,” said Baas. “Goodwill has produced the best kind of results we are going to get in this environment and our Legislature needs to go back and tighten up our elections laws.” He said statutes requiring commissions to go by “voter intent” leave a gap wide enough to drive a truck through.

“This recount demonstrated what we already know: that elections in Milwaukee County are fair, transparent, accurate and secure,” said Milwaukee County Clerk George L. Christenson. “We have once again demonstrated good government in the state of Wisconsin.” He said the county mitigated the pandemic as best it could by renting the Wisconsin Center’s 188,000-square-foot exhibition hall and designing the process to have social distancing between participations. County elections director Julietta Henry said over 3,600 people were in attendance throughout the seven days, including 975 poll workers. Sheriff deputies guarding the event had to remove people seven times, including the same individual twice for mask violations.

Friday’s results came with at least one last-minute change.

On Wednesday evening City of Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said that 65 of the 88 in-person ballots from Ward 254 were not found in sealed bags at the Wisconsin Center. She told the commission that former director and current consultant Neil Albrecht found them in the bottom of a machine at the city’s election warehouse.

The county commission adjourned, with a plan to count those final ballots Friday morning and certify the recount results after taking off Thanksgiving. “It happens,” said Christenson, noting that another municipality had the same issue in 2016.

But Friday morning Woodall-Vogg said those found ballots were not in fact the missing ballots. “What staff found, once I looked at them… was 50 training ballots,” she said. She said “CC” on the clerk signature space indicated they were used to train central count (absentee ballot processing) staff.

Posnanski moved that the county complete the recount without the city’s missing ballots. They were counted on election day, but will not count as part of the recount. With no objections from either campaign, the commission unanimously adopted the action.

“We are going to continue to look for them even though the board has said otherwise,” Woodall-Vogg told the media. She said a search would go on until December 1st to find them, even though they would not officially be counted.

The city still gained hundreds of votes that went uncounted on election day. At the bottom of a box of absentee ballots for Ward 315, 386 sealed, uncounted ballots were found during the recount. Urban Milwaukee had previously identified the ward as having an unexplainably low turnout.

An additional 73 ballots rejected on election day, because the absentee envelope lacked the witness signature, were accepted by the commission. The ballots were cast at in-person absentee sites where city workers serve as the witness, but had failed to sign the envelope. A handful of other ballots were accepted or struck based on clerk discovery and commission guidance.

The city reported 245,988 votes for president going into the recount (excluding write ins and blank selections). A final total will be added to this article once available via the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The county reported 459,723 votes in the race for president. Going into the recount it had reported 458,971 votes in the race. Neither total includes ballots cast where a voter did not pick a candidate.

A 2016 statewide recount changed the presidential results by just 131 votes.

Christenson said he thought the cost would fall under the $2 million estimated cost because it finished before the December 1st deadline. He said the county would reconcile its records to determine a final cost. The Trump campaign wired $3 million to the state to cover the recount, with the Dane County portion estimated to cost $750,000.

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