A federal judge on Friday denied a request from supporters of President-elect Donald Trump to stop the state’s presidential election recount.
Judge James Peterson set a Dec. 9 hearing for the lawsuit filed late Thursday by Great America PAC and Stop Hillary PAC. That’s just four days before a federal deadline to resolve election conflicts before a meeting of the Electoral College to formally select a new president.
In denying the motion to halt the recount that began Thursday, Peterson said the political action committees did not prove they would suffer any harm if the recount continues while the state prepares a response to the lawsuit.
Great America PAC and Stop Hillary PAC moved in Wisconsin’s Western District court late Thursday for a temporary restraining order to bring the recount to an immediate halt. Joining them was Ronald R. Johnson, a Wisconsin voter.
The Wisconsin lawsuit was one of three filed against states. The others sought to stop possible action in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the two other states targeted for recounts by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Recounts are not underway yet in either of those states.
Representatives from the political action committees didn’t respond late Friday to requests for comment about the ruling. In court filings, the groups argued that the recount could jeopardize Wisconsin’s ability to comply with federal laws requiring all states to resolve election conflicts by Dec. 13 in advance of when the Electoral College meets Dec. 19 to formally elect the next president.
Matthew Brinckerhoff, lead counsel for the Stein campaign recount effort, said Friday that Peterson’s ruling was a “major victory for American voters who want the integrity of our election system restored.”
“The court’s quick denial of the request — without even hearing counter-arguments — shows just how frivolous the suit was and how desperate Trump and his supporters are to shut down this recount and disenfranchise voters,” he said in a statement.
State says ‘Keep counting!’
The complaint argues that the recount violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because the state lacks uniform standards to determine which votes should be counted in a recount. In that way, the complaint argues, Wisconsin’s recount contradicts principles laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark Bush v. Gore ruling after the 2000 presidential election.
It also suggests the recount could unfairly tarnish Trump’s Electoral College victory, which came despite him losing the popular vote to Clinton.
The treasurer of both PACs bringing the complaint is Dan Backer, a widely known conservative political strategist from Virginia. Great America PAC was a big player in 2016 on Trump’s behalf, spending more than $14 million on ads and other expenses, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission, named as the defendant in the suit, responded earlier Friday with a Twitter post saying county officials should continue with the recount until a judge says to stop.
“Recount will continue unless a judge orders otherwise. Keep counting!” the commission posted Friday morning.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice — led by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, which potentially would defend the recount in court — was reviewing the lawsuit Friday, a spokesman said.
Stein’s campaign said earlier Friday that it planned to intervene in the case to defend the recount.
“Citizens in Wisconsin and across the country have made it clear that they want a recount and deserve to see this process through to ensure integrity in the vote,” Brinckerhoff said.
The recount is the first of a presidential election in any state since 2004 and part of a bid by Stein to scrutinize votes in three states that tipped the Electoral College to Trump.
Wisconsin’s recount got underway in all 72 counties Thursday. It was requested and paid for by Stein, whose campaign suggested — despite a lack of evidence — that fraud or error may have altered the vote total.
Trump won Wisconsin by about 22,000 votes, or about 0.7 percentage points, according to official results. State Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, has said he expects the recount to uphold Trump’s victory.
Stein’s campaign on Tuesday paid $3.5 million to the state Elections Commission for the recount. If it costs less, the campaign will be refunded the difference; if it’s more, the campaign will be billed for it.
So far there have been no major surprises in what’s expected to be a nearly two-week task of recounting nearly 3 million ballots. Iron County completed its recount on Friday, with Trump losing nine votes and Clinton gaining two votes. Stein gained six votes.
Michigan, Pennsylvania recounts
The Stein campaign also is seeking recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, states that — like Wisconsin — went for Trump despite him not being favored in the polls.
Michigan’s elections board deadlocked along partisan lines Friday on a Trump campaign request to deny Stein’s recount request and on how a recount would be conducted, meaning it would begin Tuesday or Wednesday unless the courts intervene. It also would be conducted by hand, as Stein requested.
Michigan’s Republican attorney general asked the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court to intervene, echoing the Trump campaign’s arguments that Stein shouldn’t be allowed to seek the costly recount because she couldn’t have won, even if some votes were miscounted. Stein got about 1 percent of the vote in all three states.
The Michigan courts appeared unlikely to rule immediately, with one asking for a response from elections officials by Tuesday.
In Pennsylvania, a hearing is scheduled for Monday on Stein’s push to secure a court-ordered statewide recount. Republican lawyers filed a motion that was posted on the court’s website Friday accusing Stein of engaging in legal antics and saying her recount request endangers Pennsylvania’s ability to certify its electors by the federal deadline.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.