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Biden Wins Wisconsin, Trump Calls for Recount

President Donald Trump followed up his claims of fraud in Wisconsin’s close election results Wednesday by announcing that he will immediately seek a recount in the hotly contested battleground.

MILWAUKEE (CN) — Democratic challenger Joe Biden was declared the winner of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes Wednesday afternoon by a margin of roughly 20,000 votes, though President Donald Trump has already demanded a recount after a night of twists and turns.

CNN and the Associated Press declared Biden the winner in the Badger State’s close presidential race, shortly after a statement from Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien cited “ridiculous public polling used as a voter suppression tactic” and “irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results” as the basis for a recount, though neither claim has been proven to be true.

Trump’s demand for a recount comes on the heels of a late boost of votes Biden got in the early morning hours of Wednesday as a massive amount of absentee ballot results from Milwaukee and other parts of the state were counted and tabulated.

State, county and city election officials have been reiterating for months leading up to Election Day that particularly Milwaukee would need until at least 3 or 4 a.m. to count and tabulate nearly 170,000 absentee and mail-in ballot results, in part because state law did not let election officials even begin to count them until 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

This combined with similar late returns from Green Bay and Kenosha, both moderately liberal medium-sized cities in purple counties, pushed Biden ahead by just over 20,000 votes as of Wednesday morning.

After late results put him behind in the race, Trump fumed Wednesday morning with baseless claims that the shift in results as absentee ballots were counted and reported was a fraudulent attempt to tilt the needle in Biden’s favor.

During a midday press conference via Zoom, Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top election official, assured over 100 people viewing that “yesterday’s voting process and election night counting went very well in Wisconsin…it proceeded in normal fashion.”

Although Wolfe declined to respond directly when a reporter asked her about the president’s claims of fraud and demand for a recount, she reiterated that every scrap of data and every step of the process surrounding voting and elections can be readily observed and vetted by the public and referred to claims of wrongdoing by state election workers as “insulting.”

Taking care to pause between every word for emphasis, Wolfe said “every step of the elections process is publicly observable.”

The state’s elections chief added that “nothing about yesterday was surprising to me” and “there are no dark corners or locked doors in elections.”

State law requires that Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipalities finalize their results and send them to the state’s 72 counties by 4 p.m. Wednesday. The counties then independently certify the results before sending the canvass to the state, which then certifies and reports the final results, a process Wolfe said will take until Dec. 1.

Per the state elections commission, for a recount to occur the election results first have to be canvassed and certified by every county, the deadline for which is Nov. 17, although the final report from the last county could come in earlier. For presidential elections, the candidate requesting the recount then has one day to file a formal request, according to state law.

The results margin between the candidates also has to be within 1% for there to be a recount. This is the case as Wisconsin’s results currently stand, as Biden is ahead of Trump by 20,470 votes, or 0.62%.

However, the recount law also states that if the margin between candidates is larger than 0.25%, the candidate asking for a recount must prepay for the costs of it, which according to Wolfe mostly includes staffing and supplies but also could involve renting a larger space to conduct the recount and acquiring voting machines if necessary. The recount is the purview of the counties, and they make the call over whether to recount by hand or use machines.

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The current recount law in Wisconsin was put in place by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature after Green Party candidate Jill Stein called for a recount of the state’s 2016 results even though she only won around 30,000 votes.

Election staff members pack ballots after polls closed at the Moose Lodge on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

At least one prominent Wisconsin conservative has his doubts about a 2020 recount, though.

Former Republican Governor Scott Walker tweeted a reminder Wednesday morning that a recount in a 2011 race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court only resulted in a 300-vote swing and the 2016 recount only bumped Trump’s numbers by 131 votes.

“As I said, 20,000 is a high hurdle,” Walker said.

Walker later clarified on Twitter two hours later that an error in reporting could change the recount situation, making it less of a long shot.

Interestingly enough, Walker would go on to lose the governorship to current Democratic Governor Tony Evers in 2018 by slightly more than 1% of the vote, which at the time eliminated any possibility of a recount in a very close contest.

Mordecai Lee, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who formerly served more than a decade in the Wisconsin Legislature as a Democrat, affirmed on Wednesday Wolfe’s admonishment about what constitutes “official” results that can be contested via recount.

“Nothing counts until the state elections commission issues the results of the canvass,” Lee said in an interview Wednesday. “Regardless of who’s demanding what and who’s claiming what, nothing can be done until the official canvass.”

Lee noted that Stein ended up having to pay for her recount demand in 2016 at a cost of at least $1 million.

The professor also offered that because of quality control in Wisconsin’s election system involving both counting paper ballots and ballot counting machines, there is rarely a merit-based reason to call for a recount and “it is very hard to look at a ballot and say the intent of the voter is ambiguous.”

“This is not like the old days where things are forgotten, things are misplaced,” Lee said. “The official canvass is completely reliable.”

The red-blue breakdown of Wisconsin’s 2020 electoral map is largely identical to that of 2016.

Biden ran away with Democratic strongholds like Milwaukee and Madison. Dane County, home to Madison, swung particularly hard for Biden, garnering him 75% of the county’s vote, which amounted to 181,368 more votes than Trump in the area.

The former vice president also managed to maintain many of the counties surrounding Dane that Hillary Clinton took in 2016 and Barack Obama took in 2012, such as Iowa, Sauk, Green and Rock.

Trump retained his base of support in the more rural northern and central parts of the state, even gaining more votes this go-round in counties like Marathon, Waupaca and St. Croix.

The president also won the reliably red counties making up suburban Milwaukee comprised of Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha—collectively known as the WOW counties—but his 2020 margins were slimmer in staunchly conservative Waukesha and the more tony Ozaukee than they were in 2016.

Trump’s ability to sway more well-to-do suburban voters was a persistent concern for his campaign, which he partly attempted to cure by ensuring his administration would keep the suburbs safe from the negative effects of low-income housing and the threat of radical left mobs. His lack of support among suburban women in particular was concerning enough for him to plead for the group to like him at recent rallies.

As the 2020 results stand now, Wisconsin on the whole turned in the most votes ever cast in a presidential election at around 3.2 million, as well as the second highest ever percentage of participation from voting-age adults at 71.4%.

Close as the race is as of Wednesday, however, it’s not the closest presidential contest America’s Dairyland has ever seen.

John Kerry won Wisconsin in 2004 over incumbent George W. Bush by a little more than 11,000 votes. That election set the state’s record for voting-age adult participation at 73.2%.

But the 2000 election takes the cake as the closest presidential race in Wisconsin in modern memory, when Al Gore eked out Bush by less than 6,000 votes. That election also still stands as only the third time in more than 50 years the Badger State did not vote for the candidate who ended up winning the presidency, the others being when Kerry won the state in 2004 and when Richard Nixon took it in 1960.

Follow @cnsjkelly
Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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