President Donald Trump's campaign has requested a recount of Wisconsin's two largest counties in a key battleground state that he lost by some 20,600 votes in this month's election.
The request, which came in hours ahead of the state's 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday for requesting a re-tallying of the votes, targets Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state's two liberal strongholds.
The move means the Trump campaign is only pursuing a partial recount of ballots, a practice allowed under state law, rather than a statewide one that would cost an estimated $7.9 million. Performing a recount of Dane and Milwaukee counties is projected to cost $2.74 million, a sum the campaign prepaid this week when it wired $3 million to the Elections Commission.
Trump's campaign in a statement announcing officials would file the petition Wednesday morning noted concerns over absentee balloting without presenting evidence of any wrongdoing.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way," former Dane County Judge Jim Troupis, a counsel to the campaign, said in the release. Troupis presented the recount petition to the Elections Commission Wednesday.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said in a statement Wednesday the petition was filed in-person at the agency's Madison off at 10:58 a.m. "and appears, upon facial review, to meet all of the requirements in pairing with the payment that was received late yesterday.”
Trump's campaign signaled two weeks ago in the wake of his narrow loss in Wisconsin that he would be pursuing a recount, though at the time he didn't say whether it would be a full or partial recount. He ultimately signed the recount petition on Monday, a copy of the document uploaded by the Elections Commission shows.
In the meantime, officials in both campaigns and election workers have been preparing for that possibility. Troupis and other conservatives have worked to recruit individuals "to observe and participate in potential recount proceedings" this week, according to an email shared with the Cap Times. In the Tuesday correspondence, interested recipients were encouraged to contact Troupis, who was identified as someone "who is coordinating volunteer efforts."
Troupis didn't return an email or voicemail Tuesday seeking comment.
The email was sent by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce general counsel Cory Fish, who wrote that participating in the recount efforts "could include observing the recounting of ballots, making objections, and conducting research."
WMC spokesman Nick Novak said the state's largest business lobby isn't involved in the recount effort; rather, he said, Fish was contacted by a Trump campaign volunteer and used his WMC email to forward the information onto others who might be interested in assisting.
Biden for President Wisconsin spokesman Nate Evans said Wednesday the county canvassing process, which wrapped up Tuesday, "reaffirmed Joe Biden’s clear and resounding win in Wisconsin after Wisconsin voters turned out to cast their ballots in record numbers."
"A cherry-picked and selective recounting of Milwaukee and Dane County will not change these results," he added. "Election officials worked extremely hard under unprecedented circumstances to ensure all votes were counted quickly and accurately, and the recount demanded and paid for by the Trump campaign will once again confirm Joe Biden’s victory.”
In Dane County, Clerk Scott McDonell, who said the county's projected recount costs totaled $740,000 of the $7.9 million statewide, noted officials have already picked out a venue if the recount goes forward: downtown Madison's Monona Terrace.
Other preparations include arranging security with Madison police and the facility itself, sending out requests for poll workers and more, McDonell said Wednesday morning. Once the Wisconsin Elections Commission authorizes the recount, he said officials would also move forward with livestreaming the recount and working with public health experts to determine how many observers Monona Terrace could safely accommodate.
"We're in full planning mode and have been for days," he told reporters shortly after the Trump campaign announced its plans to request a recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
Four years ago, McDonell said the county did a full hand recount of the ballots, an undertaking that took around 12 days, with officials working 16 hours each of those days. This time, officials "probably won't" do that again in order to minimize the amount of time poll workers are left processing ballots amid the worsening COVID-19 crisis.
Going forward, if the recount proceeds, counties have 13 days to complete the tally. County boards of canvassers must convene by Saturday at 9 a.m. to start the process, according to a timeline from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss recount procedures and guidelines.
The recount process isn't an uncommon one in Wisconsin. Four years ago, the state was the only one to complete a presidential recount after then-Green Party candidate Jill Stein requested one in an election that Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes. Afterward, Republican lawmakers tightened state law to only allow a losing candidate to request a recount if the outcome is within 1 percentage point, require up-front payment and narrow the deadlines associated with making the request.
Following the 2016 recount, the final election results changed by less than 1%. Trump's margin of victory over then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expanded by an additional 131 votes.
That year, the recount cost Stein just over $2 million, though initial estimates had projected the cost would be $1.8 million greater (the campaign was reimbursed the difference).
Wolfe, the Elections Commission administrator, said in a statement Monday, when the $7.9 million estimated price tag for a recount was announced, that this year's figures are higher because "they take into account factors not present four years ago, including the need for larger spaces to permit public observation and social distancing, security for those spaces, the higher number of absentee ballots, a compressed timeframe over a holiday, and renting high-speed ballot scanning equipment.”
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