Wisconsin recount begins with a partisan fight over recount rules

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The Trump campaign’s Wisconsin recount effort has been approved after hours of sparring over the ground rules about how votes in the state’s two most populous counties would be reviewed.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is a partisan body comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, held a special meeting Wednesday evening, although when election staff and Democrats proposed changes to the manual that guides recounts, Republicans cried afoul.

The Trump campaign declined to petition for an entire statewide recount, which was estimated to cost some $7.9 million, and instead fronted $3 million for recounts in Milwaukee County and in Dane County, where Madison is located. Both counties are Democratic strongholds that voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Joe Biden.

The proposed change that sparked a major point of contention was waiving the requirement for clerks to provide the original absentee ballot applications for the absentee ballots that are to be reviewed during the recount. The commission deadlocked 3-3 along partisan lines on the matter, and after hours of debate, the proposed change fell through.

“Our whole point was, why change this now right before the recount — it’s kind of a big deal — why change this now, especially when so much of what the president’s argument is has to do with absentee ballot applications,” a GOP official told the Washington Examiner on Thursday morning, characterizing it as an attempt at an eleventh-hour change after the Trump campaign has already put down $3 million to pay for the recount under the existing rules.

The Trump campaign has alleged that absentee ballots were improperly disbursed during a two-week in-person voting period.

“Municipal clerks across Wisconsin issued absentee ballots to voters without requiring an application, in direct conflict with Wisconsin’s absentee voting safeguards,” the campaign said in a news release. “Wisconsin law expressly requires that absentee ballots may not be issued without receiving a written application requesting the ballot.”

Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native and Trump’s former chief of staff, bemoaned the special meeting and proposed changes over Twitter on Wednesday night.

“Let’s get this straight,” he said. “The Trump campaign sent the Wis Election Comm. $3 mill and filed its petition for a recount. Then the WEC immediately called a special meeting to change certain recount rules that deal with the issues brought up in the petition? You can’t make this up!”

Changes agreed to by the commission that were made to the recount manual involved health accommodations for recounting ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin has become a hot spot in the past few weeks as new cases there continue to proliferate.

Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief election official, said in a statement on Thursday that the Wisconsin Elections Commission will work to assist county clerks with the recount and provide the public with information about the process.

“We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks,” she said.

The recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties are set to begin on Friday and must be completed by Dec. 1. Biden leads Trump in the state by about 20,600 votes, or an approximately 0.6-point margin.

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