Trump campaign wants recount in 2 Wisconsin counties won overwhelmingly by Biden

ABC News has projected that Joe Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes.

November 18, 2020, 2:09 PM

The Trump campaign sent $3 million to the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Wednesday for a recount in the state's two largest, most Democratic counties, Milwaukee County and Dane County, following a 20,000-vote victory in the state for President-elect Joe Biden.

“We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks. We remain committed to providing information about the process and assisting our county clerks by providing facts on the mechanics of a recount and status updates," Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official, said after reviewing the Trump campaign's petition for a recount.

The Trump campaign announced it intended to formally petition for a recount in Dane, home to the city of Madison, and Milwaukee County, earlier Wednesday, citing "illegally altered absentee ballots, illegally issued absentee ballots, and illegal advice given by government officials allowing Wisconsin’s Voter ID laws to be circumvented," all claims largely already litigated in court and knocked down by election officials who found no widespread irregularities.

These two counties both went overwhelmingly for Biden, by at least 200,000 votes in each. Milwaukee also has the state's largest Black population, and the Trump campaign targeting voters for not supplying voter ID is likely to involve people of color already the most disenfranchised by Wisconsin's voter ID laws.

The recount is unlikely to change the results of the election in the state, with no chance of overturning the results nationwide, but could allow the Trump campaign to pursue legal challenges over certain ballot issues.

PHOTO: Election officials count absentee ballots, Nov. 4, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Election officials count absentee ballots, Nov. 4, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

The cost of a total, statewide recount has been estimated at $7.9 million, whereas the cost for a recount in only Milwaukee and Dane County totals about $2.74 million. Wisconsin does not have automatic recounts, even if the unofficial results are extremely close, but the losing candidate can request one if the margin is within 1%. Because it's over 0.25%, however, the Trump campaign is responsible for footing the bill.

ABC News has projected that Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes, a margin of around 0.6%.

In response to the Trump campaign's announcement that they were pursuing a recount, a spokesperson for Biden in Wisconsin said it would only "once again confirm Joe Biden's victory."

"A cherry-picked and selective recounting of Milwaukee and Dane County will not change these results. Election officials worked extremely hard under unprecedented circumstances to ensure all votes were counted quickly and accurately, and the recount demanded and paid for by the Trump campaign will once again confirm Joe Biden’s victory,” said Nate Evans, the campaign's Wisconsin communications director.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Kenosha Regional Airport, Nov. 2, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Kenosha Regional Airport, Nov. 2, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official, has repeatedly defended the integrity of Wisconsin's election and maintained that a recount is unlikely to change results.

“I think that it's insulting to our local election officials to say that yesterday's election was anything but an incredible success that was a result of years of preparation,” she told reporters at a briefing last week.

“There are no dark corners or locked doors in elections. Anybody was free to watch those processes as they unfolded yesterday,” Wolfe said.

And Milwaukee County Election Commission Director Julietta Henry told ABC News on Wednesday the recount "will show that all of the allegations that are here are without warrant."

Wolfe, county clerks and other officials, including former Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have all cited the meager 130-vote change that resulted from Green Party Candidate Jill Stein's recount request in the state in 2016, which called for a recount in all counties rather than just two.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Karl Rove, a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff during the George W. Bush administration, also explained the reality of recounts.

"There are only three statewide contests in the last half century in which recounts changed the outcome: the 1974 New Hampshire Senate race, the 2004 Washington governor’s contest, and the 2008 Minnesota Senate election," he wrote. "The candidates in these races were separated, respectively, by 355, 261, and 215 votes after Election Day.”

In Wisconsin, clerks also raised health risks about holding the recount. The effort will last through Dec. 1, requiring poll workers to work through Thanksgiving and during the worst point of the pandemic in the state so far. Cases have been consistently on the rise for two months and Wisconsin has been unable to get control of the spread, leading to record-breaking deaths and case counts each week. Over 2,700 people have died.

"We have a lot of concerns," said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell on Wednesday. "Primary is concern about the health of staff."

"I don't want anyone in that room any longer than they have to be," he said, referring to putting poll workers in an enclosed room for almost two weeks straight to conduct the recount.

The Trump campaign, as a part of its strategy to question election results, has filed numerous lawsuits nationwide, though this is the first official requested recount. President Donald Trump has yet to concede, and he continues to claim, without evidence, that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

None of the claims the Trump campaign cited in requesting a recount in Wisconsin -- which is done because of a narrow vote margin, not because of irregularities -- are new. All have already been disputed by officials who ran the election.

For example, days after the election, Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh attempted to raise concerns that some ballots in heavily Democratic Milwaukee County had been "cured" in red pen, saying that poll workers, not voters themselves, "corrected or added information to the ballot itself."

Milwaukee Elections Commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg said this was a false characterization of what's actually allowed under a statute approved by Republicans. She told ABC News it's state procedure to use red pen on envelopes -- not ballots -- that are missing addresses or have poll workers call voters to confirm addresses.

“We use red pen in order to be completely transparent,” she said Thursday. "Both methods are 100% legal and were the same practices used in 2016.”

The Wisconsin GOP and the Trump campaign have also made the claim that people have voted as "indefinitely confined voters," which allows people to vote without proof of a photo ID, but that many people were not indefinitely confined and instead used the statute as an excuse to skirt voter ID laws.

But the law does legally allow for voters to self-certify themselves as "indefinitely confined" because of age, illness of disability and then receive an absentee ballot by mail, without providing a photo ID. It's legal, it's been recently litigated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission has specific guidance on it.

"There's a lot of checks on the system," said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell on Wednesday, after the recount was requested. McDonnell added that indefinitely confined voter requests spiked across the state along with the spike for absentee ballot requests, and it wasn't just in Dane County.

Some safeguards include the voter registration process, which requires a drivers license or Social Security card, a proof of residence document and a postcard sent to that address to verify that's where the voter lives. Then, when a voter actually casts an absentee ballot, the voter has to sign that they're an eligible voter and get a witness to sign confirming that they are who they say they are.

"And if any of those elements are missing that voter would not either receive a ballot, or that ballot would not be counted at the polls on Election Day," Wolfe said during a press briefing on Nov. 12, responding to the Trump campaigns claims.

ABC News' Will Steakin, Soorin Kim and Lauren Lantry contributed to this report.

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