Image by Tom Arthur
On Monday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission held a special meeting to authorize a statewide recount of votes in the 2016 presidential election. Wisconsin is one of three states, also including Michigan and Pennsylvania, in which recounts are likely.
The commission established ground rules for who would pay for a recount as well as the process under which it can proceed.
President-elect Donald Trump, after repeatedly asserting as a candidate that the election would be “rigged,” has used Twitter to angrily denounce calls for a recount in these three narrowly decided states, claiming that he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Commission Chair Mark L. Thomsen, a Democratic appointee, noted that the recount process would be a good way to “reassure Wisconsin voters that we have a good system . . . [and] we are not counting illegal votes.” Thomsen added that “it is most unfortunate that the President-elect is claiming that there are huge problems with our system and that’s what’s feeding this conspiracy theory.” He called such talk an “insult” to the 1854 municipal and 72 county clerks who run the state’s elections.
In Wisconsin, the campaigns for both Green Party candidate Jill Stein and American Delta Party contender R ocky Roque De La Fuente campaigns filed petitions for a recount last Friday, November 25. The petitions arrived at approximately 3 p.m. Central Standard Time, shortly before the filing deadline, throwing the state’s election officials into action in the midst of a long holiday weekend when many county clerks were away from their offices.
The petitions called for a full recount of the presidential vote in all Wisconsin counties. The recount must be completed by December 13 under a provision of federal law which allows a thirty-five-day “safe harbor” for states to resolve disputes in the presidential balloting. The actual vote of the Electoral College is scheduled to take place six days later on December 19.
The meeting lasted just over an hour, including a closed session where commission members met with officials of the Wisconsin Department of Justice to discuss possible actions in the event of litigation over the recount process or results. During the meeting, commissioners determined that a statewide hand count of all ballots would not be required, as Stein had requested. Individual counties will determine the method of counting (by hand or by machine) unless the Stein campaign went to court to request a statewide hand count, and prevailed. Following this decision, the Stein campaign filed a suit in Dane County Circuit Court to require a hand count of all 2.98 million ballots in the state.
In Wisconsin, the elections process is conducted at the county level, where clerks in the state’s seventy-two counties determine a variety of voting processes, but it is overseen statewide by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission was formed on June 30, 2016, as a replacement to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. It is made up of six partisan members, four appointed by legislative leaders and two by the governor. The commission staff is nonpartisan.
State law requires payment in advance for the full cost of the recount, a cost that the commission on Monday calculated as $3.5 million, much higher than prior estimates. The Stein and De La Fuente campaigns will each be required to pay up to the full amount of those costs by 4:30 p.m. on November 29 for a recount to be authorized. If the actual costs exceed the estimate, the petitions would receive a bill on December 12 for the balance due.
The commission approved a motion to require each campaign to pay one half of the total cost; if the De La Fuente campaign wishes to remain a petitioner, it will need to share equally in the burden. If it chooses not to pay, it would need to step down as a petitioner and have the Stein campaign pay the full estimated amount.
Following the meeting, the commission entertained questions from about two dozen members of the press, mostly local reporters. They dismissed concerns about hacking, saying the voting machines are not connected to the Internet so any tampering would have had to occur at the individual machine level, not systemwide.
Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive.