President Donald Trump’s campaign will seek a partial recount of the November election results, targeting the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Dane counties.
The campaign filed the official petition Wednesday morning, having prepaid the $3 million required to begin the recount, which will start no later than Saturday.
In the filings, the campaign alleges election officials took illegal actions related to absentee voting, as well as a lack of transparency by requiring election observers in Milwaukee to remain a significant distance away from where the votes were being counted at the city’s central count location.
“We went through this recount four years ago with the Trump campaign and they said at that time that I ran an excellent recount,” said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell. “This was a really clean election, from our point of view.”
The campaign said officials in the two counties counted absentee votes that should have been thrown out—by adding missing address information to absentee ballot envelopes. A 2016 Wisconsin Elections Commission memo said clerks could add missing addresses—for example, if members of the same household witness each other’s ballots, clerks could confirm information between the ballots to fill out any gaps. The campaign said this runs afoul of state law.
The campaign also alleged in-person absentee voting, or early voting, was improperly run because elections officials allowed voters to cast early votes without filling out a written request for an absentee ballot. According to the filings, this could impact more than 60,000 in Milwaukee, which would cover the 20,000-vote margin of victory for the Democratic ticket.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the recount a “futile attempt to try to disrupt democracy” in Democratic-heavy areas of the state.
“Don't let anybody fool you that this is about irregularities, this is flat out an attack on democracy in cities and places where people of color live,” Barrett said.
The campaign also called into question the status of the more than 240,000 “indefinitely confined” voters who cast absentee ballots in 2020. The indefinitely confined status allows voters to forgo the photo ID requirement when casting an absentee ballot, and voters do not need to provide proof of indefinitely confined status.
The campaign said this provided for abuse of the indefinitely confined designation and could lead to ballots being thrown out.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission has said repeatedly that there was no evidence of irregularities in the presidential election this year.
The commission met Wednesday evening to go over procedure for the recount, which must begin no later than Saturday.
The commission, which is split 3-3 between Democratic and Republican appointees, delved into partisan fighting over how to issue guidance to clerks on recount procedures. Republican appointee Dean Knudson advocated for campaign observers to be able to get in close to see ballots despite public health precautions over distancing.
Democratic appointees decried Republican appointees’ claims of election impropriety.
The commission is expected to approve a recount manual for local officials late Wednesday, and Thursday morning formally order clerks to begin the recount.
Milwaukee County Election Director Julietta Henry said her county will start Friday as well. Both recounts will have cameras livestreaming the proceedings, according to the officials.
Both counties are taking into consideration pandemic concerns by utilizing open spaces at the Monona Terrace in Madison and the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. McDonell said officials would machine-count most of the ballots instead of hand-counting due to pandemic concerns.
McDonell said Madison police will provide security for the Dane County recount location. Barrett said security will likely be in place at the Milwaukee site and could come from a combination of law enforcement agencies within Milwaukee County.
The state is required to certify the results of the election by Dec. 1, for which counties must submit their recount results by noon on Dec. 1.
Past presidential election recounts have not shifted the vote dramatically. A 2016 recount called for by the Green Party saw only 1,500 votes change out of nearly 3 million cast, and allowed Trump—the winning candidate in that race—to gain 131 more votes over Hillary Clinton.
This story was updated with news from the Wisconsin Elections Commission meeting.