President Donald Trump's campaign has paid $3 million for a recount of two heavily Democratic Wisconsin counties, saying Wednesday that they were the site of the “worst irregularities” although no evidence of wrongdoing has been presented and state elections officials have said there was none.
Trump paid for the recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties overnight Tuesday and planned to submit the required paperwork to trigger the recount on Wednesday, the campaign said in a statement.
In the two counties Trump chose for the recount, Democrat Joe Biden received 577,455 votes compared with 213,157 for Trump. Biden won statewide by 20,608 votes, based on canvassed results submitted by the counties.
Milwaukee County is the state's largest, home to the city of Milwaukee, and Black people make up about 27% of the population, more than any other county. Dane County is home to the liberal capital city of Madison and the flagship University of Wisconsin campus.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way," said Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis, who is working with the Trump campaign. “Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements. We will not know the true results of the election until only the legal ballots cast are counted.”
Trump's campaign said that clerks wrongly added missing information on returned absentee ballots.
But guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in place since 2016, says that clerks can fix missing witness address components on the envelopes that contain absentee ballots if they have reliable information. That guidance, passed unanimously by the bipartisan elections commission, has been in place for 11 statewide elections without objection.
The elections commission said that there were no corrections to actual absentee ballots contained inside the envelopes as some have claimed. The witness signature and address information is all contained on the envelope in which the ballot is sent.
The Trump campaign is also alleging that voters got around Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement by claiming they were indefinitely confined and therefore didn’t have to present a photo ID in order to return their absentee ballot.
Wisconsin law requires all voters to show an acceptable photo ID to vote both in person and by mail. It does provide exceptions for citizens who are indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness or infirmity or are disabled for an indefinite period.
Clerks in Milwaukee and Dane counties, as the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the state in the spring, advised voters that they could cast an absentee ballot without providing a photo ID by declaring themselves “indefinitely confined” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wisconsin Republican Party sued Democratic Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell over the advice he had posted on his Facebook page. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered McDonell to stop issuing guidance that is different from official language approved by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The commission's guidance says that “indefinitely confined status is for each individual voter to make based upon their current circumstances,” but the status is not to be used simply as a means of avoiding the voter ID requirement.
The Trump campaign also alleges that local election clerks issued absentee ballots to voters without requiring an application, in violation of state law. No evidence of wrongdoing related to absentee ballot applications has been made.
“I'm not entirely sure what they're referring to there,” McDonell said Wednesday.
The recount, once formally approved by the elections commission chair, could start as soon as Thursday and no later than Saturday. It would have to be complete by Dec. 1.
Recounts in Wisconsin and across the country have historically resulted in very few vote changes. A 2016 presidential recount in Wisconsin netted Trump an additional 131 votes.
Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes that year and opposed the recount brought by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“The people have spoken and the election is over,” Trump said at the time. “We must accept this result and then look to the future.”
In Wisconsin, two pro-Trump groups along with a Wisconsin voter went to federal court to try and stop the 2016 recount, arguing in one filing that a Wisconsin recount that might “unjustifiably cast doubt upon the legitimacy of President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s victory.”
A judge did not rule on the merits of the case, but also did not stop the recount, noting that it had almost no chance of changing the outcome.
“The final Wisconsin vote is in and guess what — we just picked up an additional 131 votes,” Trump tweeted at the time after the recount was done. “The Dems and Green Party can now rest. Scam!”