Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Judge denies request for hand recount of Wisconsin's presidential election results
editor's pick topical
STATE RECOUNT | stein campaign submits $3.5M payment

Judge denies request for hand recount of Wisconsin's presidential election results

A Dane County judge on Tuesday denied a request by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to require all votes in Wisconsin’s presidential election to be recounted by hand, as officials in each of the state’s 72 counties ready for the recount to begin Thursday.

The recount became official Tuesday afternoon, when the state Elections Commission announced it received a $3.5 million payment for the recount from Stein’s campaign, which requested it. State law says candidates may request a recount of their election if they pay for it.

Stein’s campaign has raised more than $6 million in recent days for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — three states that tipped the Electoral College to Trump, and where polls did not predict a Trump victory.

Yet even Stein’s allies expressed fresh doubts about the value of the recounts. Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, told CNN Tuesday: “I’m not in favor of the recount.”

Trump leads Clinton in Wisconsin’s official tally by more than 22,000 votes, or less than a percentage point. State Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, said Monday he expects the recount will re-affirm Trump won.

Clinton’s legal team largely stayed on the sidelines in the recount until Tuesday, when her campaign joined Stein’s court request for a hand recount.

Clinton’s attorney, Josh Kaul, wrote in a memo to the court that a hand recount is “preferable to a machine recount because human beings can assess voter intent in a way that machines cannot.”

Fifty-six counties have told the commission or the Wisconsin State Journal that they plan to do full or partial hand recounts. Other counties plan to use scanning machines to re-tabulate the votes.

Recount could cost nearly $4M

The amount quoted to the Stein campaign was about $400,000 cheaper than the actual statewide cost estimate of $3.9 million. A spokesman for the Elections Commission said the estimate was based on a tabulation error of the 72 county estimates.

Spokesman Reid Magney said the Stein campaign would pay the actual cost of the recounts, even if it is higher or lower than the estimates.

The recount is happening on an expedited timetable to comply with a federal law requiring all disputes relating to the presidential election results be resolved by Dec. 13. The deadline is slated in advance of the Electoral College’s scheduled meeting on Dec. 19 to formally elect the next president.

The recount is expected to take several days as clerks across the state bring together scores of employees — some temporary — to count ballots. The ballots will be counted by hand or fed through optical scanners, depending on what kind of voting equipment was used.

If the candidates disagree with the results of the recount, the law gives them the right to appeal in circuit court within five business days after the recount is completed, the Elections Commission said.

American Delta Party candidate Rocky Roque de la Fuente withdrew a Wisconsin recount petition Tuesday, saying the cost was too high.

Stein’s campaign has argued that if voting machines were tampered with, using those same machines to re-tabulate the votes “risks tainting the recount process.”

The 56 counties who have said they already plan to do full or partial hand recounts, account for about 60 percent of all votes. Another 13 counties, including Milwaukee, are only doing optical scan recounts, and the other three haven’t settled on a plan.

Experts: Cyber-attack of vote machines possible

State law sets a high bar for a judge to order a statewide hand recount. The law says the candidate seeking one must give “clear and convincing evidence” that using machines to conduct a recount will produce incorrect results and that there’s a “substantial probability” that recounting the ballots by hand or another method will produce a more correct result — and change the outcome of the election.

Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled Tuesday that the Stein and Clinton campaigns failed to meet that standard.

An attorney for Stein’s campaign, Debbie Greenberger, said the campaign has not decided whether to appeal Bailey-Rihn’s ruling.

Academic experts in statistics and cyber-security testified Tuesday that voting machines are vulnerable to a potential cyber-attack and recounting the vote by hand is the best way to validate results.

“A hand recount is going to provide a more accurate result because it will not be affected by any kind of cyber-security attack that might be compromising the voting machines,” testified J. Alex Halderman, a cyber-security expert and professor at the University of Michigan.

Philip Stark, director of the Statistical Computing Facility at the University of California-Berkeley, testified that a statistical analysis of small voting wards in Wisconsin showed numerical anomalies that bear further scrutiny — and could be a sign of malicious attempts to alter the vote totals. The testimony was based on an analysis by Walter Mebane, a statistical expert and University of Michigan professor.

Elections Commission director Michael Haas has said he has received no indication of tampering with state election results.

In testimony Tuesday, Haas emphasized that extensive measures are taken by local election officials to restrict unauthorized people from gaining physical access to the machines. State officials have said those machines are not connected to the Internet, meaning a potential cyber-attacker likely would need to access them in person.

Haas testified that requiring all counties to conduct hand recounts could further burden counties scrambling to staff the recount. “Many clerks have expressed to us already that they’re having trouble recruiting enough people,” Haas said.

Cost estimates differ widely

Each county provided a cost estimate to the state, ranging from 19 cents per vote in La Crosse County, where a recount has already begun in a close state Senate race between Democrat Jennifer Shilling and Republican Dan Kapanke, to $6.65 per vote in Pierce County. The average was $1.31 per vote statewide.

The average cost was $1.35 per vote in counties doing a hand count, $1.14 per vote in counties doing an optical scan, and $2.13 in counties doing a combination of both methods.

Lincoln County Clerk Christopher Marlowe said his county is doing a hand count because it’s easier to do for a single race and “just to prove our equipment is not rigged.”

At least one county said it overestimated the cost, which could skew the statewide averages. Oneida County told the state Elections Commission it would cost $178,000 to recount 21,033 ballots by both hand and optical scan, or $8.46 per vote, the highest in the state.

But County Clerk Mary Bartelt said in an interview that the estimate would likely be less after it was discovered that the estimate was based on incorrect figures from the 2011 Supreme Court recount, in which about half as many people cast ballots as this year’s presidential election. Bartelt said the estimate doubled the total cost of elections in 2011, rather than the total cost of the recount itself.

Marinette County plans to conduct a hand recount of the receipts generated by the touch-screen voting machines, County Clerk Kathy Brandt said. The receipts are in long paper tape rolls that will have to be cut and divided into piles for each candidate, then counted. The process was used in the 2011 Supreme Court recount and matched the initial results exactly. The estimated cost for the roughly 20,000 votes is about $21,500.

“I think we have a good system,” Brandt said. “I think we’re going to go pretty fast.”

State Journal reporter Bill Novak contributed to this report.


Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

State elections officials are confident a recount of presidential election ballots will not change the result. The state Department of Natural…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Badger Sports

Breaking News