MADISON — Wisconsin’s partial recount boosted Democrat Joe Biden’s victory by 87 votes Sunday as President Donald Trump said he was preparing a lawsuit to overturn the results.
The completion of the recount prompted the Democratic leader of the state Elections Commission to say she would begin certifying Biden’s victory on Monday, clearing the way for Trump to file a lawsuit. But two Republicans on the commission argued it was premature for the state to sign off on the results.
Dane County wrapped up its retallying of the vote two days after Milwaukee County finished its recount.
Biden netted 132 votes in Milwaukee County and Trump netted 45 votes in Dane County. When taken together, that increased Biden’s statewide margin to 20,695 votes out of about 3 million cast.
Trump’s campaign paid $3 million to cover the cost of the recounts in Wisconsin’s two most Democratic counties so he could pursue a long-shot lawsuit to claim the state’s 10 electoral votes.
Trump on Saturday tweeted that he would file a lawsuit in Wisconsin by Tuesday.
“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.
The recount has not turned up evidence of fraud, prompting Twitter to label his tweet as disputed. Trump’s campaign has alleged long-standing voting practices in Wisconsin are illegal and sought to throw out about 238,000 ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
The campaign claims all early in-person votes in those counties are illegitimate, including ones cast by GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, GOP state Rep. Jessie Rodriguez of Oak Creek and Trump campaign attorney Jim Troupis. Democrats, election officials and election attorneys have called the claim preposterous, noting the state has been conducting early in-person voting the same way for a decade without any challenges.
Trump has faced setback after setback in court in other states and he faces an uphill battle in Wisconsin. Even if he managed to change the outcome in Wisconsin, Biden would still be able to claim the presidency because of his victories in other states.
Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chairwoman of the Elections Commission, said Sunday she planned to start certifying Biden’s victory on Monday to help resolve any legal challenges as quickly as possible. She said it was better to move the process along on Monday instead of waiting until the commission meets Tuesday.
“The reason for that is the Trump campaign cannot appeal until it’s certified,” she said.
State law says the commission chairperson “shall publicly canvass the returns and make his or her certifications and determinations” of the results, and past certifications have been left to the chairperson to handle.
But another part of state law says “for presidential electors, the commission shall prepare a certificate showing the determination of the results of the canvass and the names of the persons elected.” Republicans have argued the rest of the commission should play a role in certifying the presidential election because that part of the statutes refers to the commission, not just the chairperson.
Certifying the results is a simple, administrative matter, Jacobs said.
“The role of the Elections Commission is essentially to verify the numbers, and that’s the whole purpose of the canvass,” she said.
Jacobs will complete the certification of all of Wisconsin’s elections on Tuesday, according to a spokesman for the commission.
Republicans said the state should hold off on certifying the presidential results until the courts decide Wisconsin’s results.
“I don’t see what the rush is with that,” said GOP Commissioner Dean Knudson.
Commissioner Bob Spindell, a Republican, called Jacob’s move “completely inappropriate.”
“Obviously, she’s trying to pull a fast one for some reason,” he said of Jacobs.
Biden improves margin after recount
In Milwaukee County, Biden netted 132 more votes over the initial results. Much of the increase occurred because tabulators discovered 386 votes had not been counted on Election Day.
In Dane County, Biden had 91 votes taken away and Trump had 46 votes taken away, netting Trump an uptick of 45 votes in that county. Most of the votes were taken away because absentee ballot envelopes were found to have lacked voter signatures, witness signatures or witness addresses, said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell.
The county’s Board of Canvassers unanimously signed off on the recounted results. The board consists of one Republican and two Democrats, including McDonell.
“For me what this recount showed was that there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud in this election even after looking at over 300,000 ballots, over 254,000 envelopes,” McDonell said. “Really this incredible level of transparency should provide reassurance to the public that the election was run properly and accurately and there was no fraud.”
McDonell said he was bothered that Trump tried to throw out votes in the state’s Democratic strongholds while letting stand ones that were cast the same way in Republican areas.
“I think we need to think about whether that is equal protection under the Constitution,” he said. “Those voters aren’t being equally protected if that were true — that the same action in one county as another, one vote gets tossed, the other doesn’t. I think that’s disturbing.”
Like the president, Trump attorney Jenna Ellis suggested a lawsuit is coming after the recounts were finished.
“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 in a statement.
Highlighting the difficulties for the Trump team, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke signaled on Twitter he would not be on board with changing Wisconsin’s outcome.
In response to a headline about whether the Legislature could change Wisconsin’s slate of electors, the Republican from Kaukauna tweeted a clip of actor Dana Carvey playing President George H.W. Bush saying, “Not gonna do it.”
High court weighs lawsuits
Already there are two lawsuits over the election results pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Both are asking the high court to throw out results and allow the Republican-controlled Legislature to decide how to cast the state’s votes in the Electoral College.
The justices have not said whether they would accept the cases. Conservatives hold a 4-3 majority on the court.
In one lawsuit, the Wisconsin Voters Alliance contended many of the state’s votes were illegal because clerks filled in the addresses for witnesses on some absentee ballot envelopes and some absentee voters may have claimed to be indefinitely confined even though they weren’t. Indefinitely confined voters, such as the elderly and disabled, can get absentee ballots without having to provide a photo ID to election officials.
The group also maintains it was illegal for Milwaukee, Madison and other Wisconsin cities to accept $6.3 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help run their elections. The nonprofit center is funded by $350 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The group earlier made that claim in a federal lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled against them.
“The Wisconsin Voters Alliance, we’re concerned by the money that goes from private individuals who have an impact on elections,” said Ron Heuer, the group’s president. “We’re not going to give up on that fight, come hell or high water. That is our ultimate goal to have that business stopped.”
Heuer formed the Wisconsin Voters Alliance in September and about 50 people belong to it, he said. Heuer is a retired travel industry executive and U.S. Army veteran who is chairman of the Republican Party of Kewaunee County.
On Friday, Dean Mueller of Chippewa Falls filed a lawsuit asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reject the state’s votes because many communities set up absentee ballot drop boxes that he contends were not allowed under state law.
Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.