Wisconsin officials confident vote will stand up to recount

 Wisconsin election workers seal up a ballot drop box.
Wisconsin election workers seal up a ballot drop box on Milwaukee’s North Side after the final pickup on Tuesday.
Geoffery Hing | APM Reports

President Donald Trump says he’ll seek a recount of the ballots cast in Wisconsin after unofficial results on Wednesday showed former Vice President Joe Biden winning the state by less than 1 percentage point.

Wisconsin’s uncertified count shows Biden winning by a little more than 20,000 votes, flipping a state Trump won four years ago by nearly 23,000 votes.

Wisconsin Elections Director Meagan Wolfe welcomed the prospect of a recount and expressed confidence in the state’s vote counting.

“We’ve had a recount before and it showed that we have a really good process,” she said. “We have a really good system and our local elections officials are doing a phenomenal job.”

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Wisconsin’s election system has been heavily scrutinized since a disorganized April primary. The state held one of the first primaries after the coronavirus shut down the nation. It featured long lines, thousands of missing mailed ballots and nearly 23,000 rejected absentee ballots.

Since then, election officials worked hard to ensure there wouldn’t be similar problems in November.

Outside of a Milwaukee library on Tuesday, a few voters scrambled to make the election night deadline to vote in-person or hand-deliver mailed ballots. Two election workers were directing people to vote in-person or place ballots in a drop box. Volunteers offered snacks to people waiting to vote. Another guy held a sign offering to give rides to voters who needed to go to another polling location. 

Rokeshia Grant opted to hand-deliver her ballot. She wanted to vote absentee out of fears of being exposed to the coronavirus at the polling place.

“I’ve got small children and I’m scared of getting sick,” she said.

Workers process mail-in ballots at a processing center in Milwaukee.
Workers process mail-in ballots at a central processing center in downtown Milwaukee early Wednesday.
Geoffery Hing | APM Reports

After the polls closed at 8 p.m., the 1,851 municipal election directors started the arduous task of ballot counting. Like most places around the country, voters in Wisconsin have historically voted in person. But the increased use of by-mail ballots this year put additional pressure on the clerks. State laws in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania prevented clerks from processing the millions of mailed ballots until Election Day.

That meant some clerks were forced to administer in-person polling sites on Election Day along with assembling teams of workers to process millions of mailed ballots.

In Milwaukee, it took nearly 19 hours to count 170,000 absentee ballots. One reason larger cities like Milwaukee took longer to report results is that state law forbids partial results from being released until the entire reporting unit finishes counting.

Milwaukee didn’t finish its count until 3 a.m.  After they wrapped up, the city’s election director was flanked by police officers who eventually drove her to the courthouse to hand-deliver the results.

Wisconsin law requires the municipal clerks to double-check their results this week and then send those figures to the county for certification. Those numbers are then sent to the state. The Trump campaign can officially file its recount request prior to state approval on Dec. 1. 

Those who work or monitor election recounts say it’s unlikely Trump will overcome a 20,000-vote margin.

Previous statewide recounts in Wisconsin didn’t show much movement from the initial counts, said Neil Albrecht, who managed elections for the city of Milwaukee between 2012 and this spring.

In 2016, Trump gained just 131 votes after ballots were counted again in Wisconsin. 

“Errors are very rare because elections are so closely monitored and so closely regulated and very dictated by state law and by election rules,” Albrecht said.

Since Trump trails Biden by more than a quarter of a percentage point, he’ll be forced to pay for the recount if he seeks one. Albrecht said the statewide recount in the 2016 presidential race cost $3 million.