The first candidate-driven statewide recount of a presidential election in 16 years began Thursday in Wisconsin, a state that Donald Trump won by less than a percentage point over Hillary Clinton after polls long predicted a Clinton victory.
The recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein carries none of the drama of the Florida presidential recount of 2000, when the outcome of the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush hung in the balance. Almost no one expects Stein's push for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to result in a Clinton victory over Trump.
"This is certainly not Bush v. Gore," said Wisconsin's chief elections administrator Mike Haas.
Even so, the campaigns for Trump, Clinton and Stein all had observers spread throughout the state to watch the recount. County election officials hired temporary workers, expanded hours and dusted off recount manuals to prepare for the work of re-tabulating nearly 3 million ballots.
Most counties will manually recount the ballots, although Stein lost a court challenge this week to force hand recounts everywhere. The state's largest county, Milwaukee, was planning to recount the ballots by feeding them through the same machines that counted them on election night. In Dane County, where Clinton won 71 percent of the vote, the ballots will be counted by hand.
Workers in Dane County were being paid $20 an hour and will work two shifts for about 12 hours a day to get the recount done by the 8 p.m. Dec. 12 deadline, said County Clerk Scott McDonell. He didn't expect much change in the results.
"I think we will be very close to what was reported on election night," McDonell said Thursday.
Clinton lost to Trump by about 22,000 votes in Wisconsin. Wisconsin election officials have less than two weeks to complete the recount. Dec. 13 is the federal deadline to certify the vote to avoid having the fate of Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes decided by Congress. Even if that were to happen, the votes would almost certainly go to Trump, since Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
Stein has argued, without evidence, that irregularities in the votes in all three states suggest that there could have been tampering with the vote, perhaps through a well-coordinated, highly complex cyberattack.
"Verifying the vote through this recount is the only way to confirm that every vote has been counted securely and accurately and is not compromised by machine or human error, or by tampering or hacking," Stein said in a statement Thursday. "The recount does not benefit one candidate over another. It benefits all voters across the political spectrum. This is an essential first step to restore confidence in our elections and trust in our democracy."
Stein's critics, including the Wisconsin Republican Party, contend that she's a little-known candidate who is merely trying to raise her profile while raising millions of dollars. Stein had raised nearly $7 million, about twice as much as her longshot presidential campaign, to pay for the recounts.
The Wisconsin recount was estimated to cost about $3.9 million, while Stein paid $973,250 for the recount in Michigan, which is scheduled to begin Friday.
Stein filed a lawsuit Monday in Pennsylvania to force a recount there.