Updated Thursday at 8:29 a.m. CST
President Donald Trump filed Wednesday for a recount of Wisconsin's two most Democratic counties, paying the required $3 million cost and alleging that they were the sites of the “worst irregularities” although no evidence of illegal activity has been presented.
The Wisconsin Election Commission has agreed to issue an order to recount ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties. The recount must be done by Dec. 1.
Milwaukee County will get the ball rolling on the recount Thursday morning, when a moving company will pick up ballots from the Milwaukee County Courthouse, county elections director Julietta Henry said Wednesday.
"They will load in all of our ballots and supplies that were delivered to us from the November 3 elections from all 19 municipalities. The sheriff's office will be available in here to escort the ballots over to the Wisconsin Convention Center," she explained.
From then on, the ballots will be locked and secured at the Wisconsin Center and under 24-hour supervision by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department. High-speed tabulators that were used by the city of Milwaukee at Central Count will be relocated to the Wisconsin Center.
When the recount begins Friday morning, party representatives will be able to make objections to particular ballots.
Henry explained the process: "Once a ballot is in question, and at the end of counting that specific ward, the clerk will bring that ballot before the board of canvassers. At that time, they will review the ballot in a specific challenge that was made, it will be brought before the board and the board will vote on each and every one of them individually."
Milwaukee County's recount will be livestreamed and open to the public.
In Dane County, the goal is to start the recount at a Madison convention center on Friday and livestream it as well, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said Wednesday. The recount will be done 16 hours a day and will likely take the entire 13 days allotted to complete.
“We know the result will be the same as it was,” he said. “It’s what we saw across the state four years ago and this election, from my perspective, ran very smoothly.”
Democrat Joe Biden received 577,455 votes in those two counties compared with 213,157 for Trump. Biden won statewide by 20,608 votes, based on canvassed results submitted by the counties.
“The official canvass results reaffirmed Joe Biden’s clear and resounding win in Wisconsin after Wisconsin voters turned out to cast their ballots in record numbers,” said Biden campaign spokesman Nate Evans. “A cherry-picked and selective recounting of Milwaukee and Dane County will not change these results."
Milwaukee County is the state's largest, home to the city of Milwaukee, and Black people make up about 27% of the population, more than any other county. Dane County is home to the liberal capital city of Madison and the flagship University of Wisconsin campus.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way," said Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis, who is working with the Trump campaign. “Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements. We will not know the true results of the election until only the legal ballots cast are counted.”
Dean Knudson, a Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said Trump raised "significant legal questions that have never been adjudicated in Wisconsin.”
But a fellow commission member, Democrat Mark Thomsen, said Trump was trying to change the rules of the election after he lost, but only in two counties.
“That’s like losing the Super Bowl and then saying ‘I want a review of a certain play using different rules than what applied to the rest of the game,’” Thomsen said. “That is the essence of hypocrisy and cheating and dishonesty.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, rejected the Trump campaign’s assertion that there were any problems in the two counties.
“This is an attack on cities, on minorities, on places that have historically voted Democratic," Barrett said. "Don’t let anyone fool you that this is about irregularities.”
Trump's campaign said that clerks wrongly added missing information on returned absentee ballots.
But guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in place since 2016, says that clerks can fix missing witness address components on the envelopes that contain absentee ballots if they have reliable information. That guidance, passed unanimously by the bipartisan elections commission, has been in place for 11 statewide elections without objection.
The elections commission said that there were no corrections to actual absentee ballots contained inside the envelopes as some have claimed. The witness signature and address information is all contained on the envelope in which the ballot is sent.
Trump's campaign also contends that during the election at Milwaukee's Central Count facility, observers were required to be 30-35 feet away from where absentee ballots were being processed. They say with a recount, observers can get closer and will discover fraud.
The Trump campaign is also alleging that voters got around Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement by claiming they were indefinitely confined and therefore didn’t have to present a photo ID in order to return their absentee ballot.
Wisconsin law requires all voters to show an acceptable photo ID to vote both in person and by mail. It does provide exceptions for citizens who are indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness or infirmity or are disabled for an indefinite period.
The Wisconsin Republican Party sued Democratic Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell over the advice he had posted on his Facebook page. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered McDonell to stop issuing guidance that is different from official language approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The Trump campaign also alleges that local election clerks issued absentee ballots to voters without requiring an application, in violation of state law. No evidence of wrongdoing related to absentee ballot applications has been made.
Republicans had raised concerns about events held over two weekends at Madison parks where poll workers accepted completed absentee ballots from people. But no ballots were handed out at that event, only those previously requested were accepted and there were no legal challenges filed.
Elections commission members Knudson and Thomsen both said they did not know what Trump was referring to in that complaint.
“This was news to me that that’s been happening," said Knudson, a Republican.
Thomsen, a Democratic member, said the claim was “not true.”
“Everyone knows you can’t get an absentee ballot unless you request it," Thomsen said.
Recounts in Wisconsin and across the country have historically resulted in very few vote changes. A 2016 presidential recount in Wisconsin netted Trump an additional 131 votes.
Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes that year and opposed the recount brought by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“The people have spoken and the election is over,” Trump said at the time. “We must accept this result and then look to the future.”
In Wisconsin, two pro-Trump groups along with a Wisconsin voter went to federal court to try and stop the 2016 recount, arguing in one filing that a Wisconsin recount that might “unjustifiably cast doubt upon the legitimacy of President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s victory.”
A judge did not rule on the merits of the case, but also did not stop the recount, noting that it had almost no chance of changing the outcome.
“The final Wisconsin vote is in and guess what — we just picked up an additional 131 votes,” Trump tweeted at the time after the recount was done. “The Dems and Green Party can now rest. Scam!”