The recount of presidential ballots in Wisconsin’s two largest counties finished Sunday, reconfirming that President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Trump in the key swing state by more than 20,000 votes.
After Milwaukee County completed its tally Friday and Dane County concluded its count Sunday, there was little change in the final breakdown of the more than 800,000 ballots that had been cast in the two jurisdictions. As a result of the recount, Biden’s lead over Trump in Wisconsin grew by 87 votes.
Under Wisconsin law, Trump was required to foot the bill for the partial recount — meaning his campaign paid $3 million only to see Biden’s lead expand.
The results of the Wisconsin recount cemented Trump’s failure to alter the results of the November election in a series of states where he has falsely alleged there was widespread fraud and irregularities.
His efforts to stop Michigan officials from certifying the vote there earlier this month ran aground. A hand recount of ballots in Georgia confirmed Biden’s win in that state. Two new court decisions in Pennsylvania late last week rejected the Trump campaign’s attempts to halt the vote count there, the latest in a series of forceful judicial opinions that have tossed out claims by the president and his allies around the country.
On Monday, Arizona — the fifth of the six states where Trump has tried to upend the vote certification process — is set to finalize its results.
The Wisconsin Election Commission is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, at which time state law says the election results will be certified by the chairwoman of the six-member panel, who is a Democrat.
Danielle Melfi, the Wisconsin state director of the Biden campaign, said in a statement Sunday that the recount “only served to reaffirm Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin.”
She said local boards of canvassers had “resoundingly rejected — often on a bipartisan basis — the Trump campaign’s baseless attempts to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who simply followed the law when they voted. And despite repeated incendiary accusations, there was no evidence of fraud whatsoever.”
The president and his legal advisers have said they still plan to fight in court in an attempt to prevent Wisconsin from moving forward. The three Republicans on the state’s six-member election commission could seek to delay certification while the process unfolds.
“The Wisconsin recount is not about finding mistakes in the count, it is about finding people who have voted illegally, and that case will be brought after the recount is over, on Monday or Tuesday,” Trump wrote in a tweet Saturday. “We have found many illegal votes. Stay tuned!”
Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis claimed without evidence in a statement Sunday that the recounts had “revealed serious issues regarding the legality of ballots cast.”
“As we have said from the very beginning, we want every legal vote, and only legal votes to be counted, and we will continue to uphold our promise to the American people to fight for a free and fair election,” she said.
Even if the Trump campaign were to pull out a surprise courtroom win — which legal experts said is unlikely — it would do little to change the outcome of the White House race, which Biden won with 306 electoral votes. The electoral college will meet on Dec. 14 to formalize his victory.
In Wisconsin, the president’s campaign sought to use the recount process to invalidate tens of thousands of otherwise legal ballots. Among other things, Trump’s lawyers argued that a form signed by voters who cast a ballot during in-person voting before Election Day was insufficient under state law. They said all those ballots — totaling about 180,000 votes in the two counties — should be tossed out.
They also complained about a practice in place since 2016 that allows election officials to fix tiny errors on the certification envelopes of some mail-in ballots, as well as rules in place since 2011 that allow some people to declare themselves “indefinitely confined” due to age or disability and vote without showing a photo ID.
Local officials in each county rejected the Trump campaign arguments and included the ballots in the recount.
In announcing Dane County’s results Sunday, Clerk Scott McDonell told reporters that he saw Trump’s tweet as “a clear admission to the fact that there was no fraud found here,” but instead an acknowledgment that the Trump campaign’s concerns amounted to “objections to policies.”
He said the process should “reassure” the public about the accuracy of the count, but said he found it “disturbing” that the Trump campaign had targeted only two Democratic counties for practices in place across Wisconsin.
Two conservative groups filed lawsuits last week asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider challenges to the recount process. The seven-member elected court has not yet said whether it will agree to hear the cases; Republicans have a 4-to-3 majority on the court. The Trump campaign is not so far a party to either suit.
Legal experts have said the arguments advanced by the Trump campaign during the recount were thin. They also said that even if judges were to conclude that some practices by Wisconsin clerks were technically flawed, they would be extremely unlikely to throw out tens of thousands of ballots cast by voters who did nothing wrong other than follow rules, as directed by election officials.
Further undermining the Trump campaign’s argument, experts said, is the fact that it raised only objections in two predominantly Democratic counties.
The practices that Trump lawyers criticized are in place statewide and have been in place for years, including before the 2016 election — which Trump won and did not contest.
Their arguments would not invalidate only Biden votes. Documents prepared as part of the Dane County recount showed that the Trump campaign’s own lead attorney in Wisconsin, James Troupis, had voted early and in person. He essentially argued that his own vote was illegal and should not be counted. Troupis did not respond to requests for comment.
“This whole strategy is so shortsighted. It’s so self-destructive in the long term,” said James Wigderson, a conservative activist and editor of the website RightWisconsin, who did not vote for Trump.
He argued the GOP gambit sent a strong message to voters of color that the Republican Party believes their votes are less valid than those cast in White suburbs and rural areas. “Republicans should be outraged by this,” he said.
Under Wisconsin law, Trump was allowed to request the recount because Biden’s margin of victory — about 0.6 percent — was less than 1 percent. However, Trump’s campaign was required to pay for the recount because Biden’s margin was more than 0.25 percent. Trump could have requested a full statewide recount, at a cost of nearly $8 million. Instead, his campaign opted to pay less for a narrower recount in the state’s two most Democratic-leaning counties.
“This recount demonstrated what we already know: that elections in Milwaukee County are fair, transparent, accurate and secure,” County Clerk George Christenson said as the county election commission voted to certify its results Friday. “We have once again demonstrated good government in Wisconsin.”
The recounts required dozens of election employees to work for more than 12 hours a day since Nov. 20, taking off only Thanksgiving Day. Officials in both counties took over local convention centers to allow workers to spread out, erected plexiglass shields, and instructed workers and observers alike to wear masks.
Still, election officials worried employees could have been exposed to the coronavirus while conducting a process they had asserted from the start was exceptionally unlikely to change the state’s results, given Biden’s margin of victory.
“I’m very concerned,” Christenson said in an interview.
He noted that there among the 300 people who gathered at a convention center each day for the recount was a poll worker who was pregnant. A member of the local elections commission, who had to be on site full time to adjudicate challenges raised by the Trump campaign, is 73 years old and has a heart condition, he said.