By Adam Kelnhofer and Royce Podeszwa
Milwaukee County election officials expect the recount effort to finish a few days before the deadline of Dec. 1, despite delays officials blamed on the Trump campaign.
While Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson is “absolutely” certain the recount effort will be done before Dec. 1, election workers will have to complete their effort after a short break for Thanksgiving.
Christenson spent time Monday enforcing social distancing rules himself, asking people standing next to each other to take a couple steps away from each other. Christenson also said there were no disruptions from the Trump campaign Monday. “It’s progressing well. We feel today is much smoother, so we’re happy about that,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge to get wrapped up by Thanksgiving, but we’ll see, we’ll see,” he added. “I would love to have everybody home and out of here and safe by the holiday for sure.”
Trump campaign attorney Stewart Karge noted “there’s been some criticism of the Trump campaign for allegedly delaying this process” and asked Milwaukee County election commissioners if there was a way to fill the empty tables inside the Wisconsin Center to speed up the process.
Dem Election Commission Chair Tim Posnanski said the empty tables are there because the board set aside tables for as many election workers as each municipality could provide. But some of those municipalities have already finished their canvasses.
“I would note for the record that there were delays caused by the Trump campaign and how certain observers were conducting themselves, and I anticipate we would be much further along in the process had that not occurred,” Posnanski added.
He pointed to an overwhelming number of objections from Trump campaign observers on Friday that caused a break in ballot counting for about five hours. The objections primarily concerned envelopes filled out with more than one color of ink and voters who marked themselves as “indefinitely confined.”
“Clearly the Trump campaign has an organized effort to try to delay and slow down the process as much as possible,” Dem Milwaukee County Election Commissioner Dawn Martin said. She said the campaign’s concerns about ink color and voters being indefinitely confined are “spurious.”
However, Posnanski said “today’s been quiet, how it should be” despite more than 200 people representing the Trump campaign observing the counting effort. At least one observer was escorted off the premises by Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies for video recording voter information on ballots after being asked to stop.
The three Milwaukee County election commissioners — Rick Baas, Martin and Posnanski — voted on several issues regarding voter intent and whether to accept newly found envelopes marked Nov. 3 or earlier. Martin noted Baas, a Republican, only cast two “yes” votes Monday. One was a vote to remove one Whitefish Bay Ward 2 envelope from the count because it contained a ballot for a different ward and the other was whether to count a military ballot missing the voter’s date of birth.
Baas and Posnanski said the newly found ballots were more overlooked than lost, but all of the envelopes in question have remained in the hands of election officials since Nov. 3. They said ballots sometimes get overlooked or not checked in properly on election day, but they aren’t seeing a noticeable increase in overlooked or newly found ballots this year.
The board voted to add these ballots to the count, something Baas said happens every election. They did not vote to reject any of the newly found ballots.
Baas said he is “very confident in the machines” that are counting the ballots. He added the alleged issues with Dominion Voting Systems cropping up around the country are irrelevant in Milwaukee because they use a different system.
As of this Monday morning, the Trump campaign has objected to more than 10,000 envelopes from the city of Milwaukee, more than 1,000 from Franklin, more than 500 from Shorewood and Cudahy and more than 300 from Hales Corners, according to information from the Milwaukee County Election Commission. The board has sustained none of those objections, according to a spokesman.
While the Milwaukee County Election Commission Board struck down all three standing objections from the Trump campaign, they decided as a gesture of good faith to set aside all ballots where voters marked themselves as indefinitely confined, as well as envelopes with voter and witness address changes made by election workers.
Suburbs Franklin and Wauwatosa were on pace to finish their recount by the end of the day.
According to the Milwaukee County Election Commission, 344,220 absentee applications were filed in Milwaukee County for the general election, 18,408 of which were not returned.
A total of 108,947 ballots were cast via in-person absentee voting, and 51,060 voters self-certified as indefinitely confined.
Dane County’s recount has run “very smoothly” since initially getting off to a slow start on Friday, according to County Clerk Scott McDonell.
McDonell told WisPolitics.com that while the recount effort is still behind schedule, the observers’ objections have been “predictable” and officials have a logging system all parties seem to accept.
“I’ll know better at the end of the day whether we are catching up,” he said. “I don’t see any way we won’t be working past Thanksgiving. However, we’re still planning on taking Thanksgiving Day off.”
The Monona Terrace exhibition hall, where the bulk of the recount takes place, had fewer observers around compared to Friday, with all wearing masks and most following the recount’s COVID-19 social distancing safety precautions.
There was roughly one observer for each tabulator in the room, according to McDonell, a sharp decrease from the first day where WisPolitics.com observed two or three observers at nearly every station.
McDonell said the Madison Board of Canvassers keeps about 70 tabulators in the room at a time, rotating people throughout the day.
Recount efforts Monday focused on the “larger communities” outside of Madison, like Monona, Verona and Sun Prairie. Officials haven’t yet started with Madison’s ballots. McDonell said he hopes tabulators will get to the county’s largest municipality in the coming days.
McDonell in a tweet said the county at the start of day four had tabulated 82,796 out of its 345,604 ballots. But he warned the pace might lessen now as tabulators get to work on the larger communities in the county.
The Biden team, Trump team and canvassers also all agreed to leave the final count up to the tabulator to help speed things up.
A Trump recount spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it still intends to take its efforts to the court system once recounts conclude. But McDonell told WisPolitics.com he’s confident that’s been “the whole point of a lot of what’s happening right now.”
Canvassers also agreed to provide the campaigns an Excel database for their own use to sort data into the categories they’d find most useful, such as which voters marked themselves as indefinitely confined or which ones voted absentee.