“We need to stop calling it a ‘recount.’ It is the attempted wholesale disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters by the Republican Party because they cannot admit Joe Biden won.” – Ann Jacobs, Wisconsin Elections Commission
The counting of ballots cast in the City of Milwaukee finally began on the third day of the recount process. The atmosphere inside the Wisconsin Center on Sunday, November 22 was more quiet than the previous two days.
But while the recount process finally moved forward, the situation remained acrimonious and chaotic at times. Lawyers for the Trump and Biden camps constantly walked the floor, monitoring the hundreds of tables over a space the size of roughly three football fields.
Many poll workers wore sports team apparel, a common Sunday habit for Milwaukee residents during football season. At one counting table, a poll worker wearing a Chicago Bears jersey worked with a partner wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey. The symbolism of rivals cooperating was not lost on the observers. The Wisconsin Badgers and Milwaukee Brewers were also represented.
A 2016 statewide recount changed the presidential results by just 131 votes. President-elect Joe Biden currently leads Trump by 20,608 votes in Wisconsin. With no precedent to erase such a large margin, it is widely expected that Trump’s eventual plan in Wisconsin is litigation over thousands of absentee ballots that he argues were improperly cast.
The county’s election commissioners — two Democrats and one Republican — have been in almost perpetual session to address a stream of Trump challenges that county clerk George Christenson said was slowing the recount to a crawl and putting the process far behind schedule.
The commissioners occasionally walked up to recount tables themselves to investigate alleged rules violations. On November 21, the second day of counting, election officials accused Trump representatives of flouting rules to obstruct and delay the recount, detailing that some of their observers were objecting to every ballot at a particular table.
Challenges were even being made over absentee ballots that were folded, a necessary step for voters to put them in envelopes. Referred to as early voting, the Trump campaign has also maintained a standing objection to all in-person absentee ballots.
When the Trump campaign reiterated their list of objections, an attorney for President-elect Biden added, “I want to reiterate that the Trump campaign is asking to throw out every in-person absentee ballot in Milwaukee.”
The Trump campaign also asked the commission to deliver personal information for every Milwaukee County voter, but the board rejected the request. Because of privacy laws in Wisconsin, like those that protect battered and abused women, the Trump lawyers were directed to use the open records laws to obtain the information they wanted.
While the recount itself almost certainly will not change the election result, Trump’s campaign appears to be intent on getting as many challenges on the record as possible so they can eventually ask a judge to toss whole categories of ballots. Trump lost to Biden in Milwaukee County, the state’s most populous county that includes a large Black population, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. The focus of disputes are tens of thousands of absentee ballots.
By law, the recount must be finished by December 1. But at the end of the second day few of the hundreds of Milwaukee tabulators had gotten around to actually counting votes. Most of the two days since the process began on November 20, aside from waiting for rulings from the commission in response to Trump campaign objections, involved sorting ballot papers, including mail-in ballot envelopes and applications.
While it looked impossible to finished the recount as planned before Thanksgiving, Milwaukee County Clerk George L. Christenson and Elections Director Julietta Henry affirmed that the process would be completed by the December 1 deadline.
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