Nearly 400 uncounted absentee ballots from Milwaukee were found in the recount Tuesday as a conservative group asked the state Supreme Court to let Republicans who control the Legislature decide how to cast Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes.

The last-minute lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, a group that got no traction with litigation in federal court before the election. The state’s high court asked for additional briefing as it decides whether to take up the new case.

The 386 absentee ballot envelopes from a ward on Milwaukee’s south side were not opened – and the ballots were not counted – on Election Day due to “human error” at Milwaukee’s central count operation, said Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.

The ballots discovered at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee still would not be enough to change the outcome of Wisconsin’s presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by about 20,600 votes.

President Donald Trump paid $3 million for recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties as part of a longshot bid to overturn election results in Wisconsin and other key swing states.

Pennsylvania and Nevada certified their election results Tuesday, awarding a combined 26 electoral votes from two key battleground states to Biden – 20 from Pennsylvania, six from Nevada. The certifications came a day after Trump’s administration formally initiated the transition for Biden.

With other key states also certifying their results, it means even if Trump overturned the outcome here, through the recount or the courts, that alone would not give him the presidency.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Janesville, said that it’s time to move on to “an orderly transfer of power” to Biden’s administration.

“So, the election is over,” Ryan said Tuesday during an online conference sponsored by Bank of America, based on reporting from Politico. “The outcome is certain, and I really think the orderly transfer of power – that is one of the most uniquely fundamental American components of our political system.”

New lawsuit filed

As Trump mulls using the recount to launch a lawsuit, the group of voters asked the state Supreme Court to bar the Wisconsin Elections Commission from certifying the state’s results. The Wisconsin Voters Alliance wants the court to allow lawmakers to decide how to cast the state’s electoral votes instead.

In September, the group sued in federal court over $6.3 million in grants the Center for Tech and Civic Life gave to Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha to help them run their elections. The center is funded by $350 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The group contended the heavily Democratic cities didn’t have the authority to spend that money, but U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled against them in October. An appeals court ruled against the group as well.

On Tuesday, the group took its arguments to the state Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 4-3 majority.

The group contended state and federal law don’t allow cities to accept private donations to run their elections. Additionally, it sought to advance claims made by Trump’s legal team that officials improperly administered the election.

For the last four years, clerks have been allowed to fill in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes if witnesses do not provide it. That policy was supported by Republicans for years, but the lawsuit contends the practice is illegal.

In addition, the lawsuit contends some voters listed themselves as indefinitely confined when they didn’t meet the criteria to do so. State law allows indefinitely confined voters, such as those with disabilities, to receive absentee ballots without providing a photo ID.

The justices have not said if they will take the case but told the state Elections Commission to file a brief responding to the lawsuit by Friday.

‘Human error’

The newly-discovered Milwaukee ballots were from Ward 315, on the city’s south side. They were received in a timely manner, before or on Election Day, Woodall-Vogg said.

The Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers voted unanimously, 3-0, that the ballot envelopes should be opened and ballots should be counted.

Woodall-Vogg said she thought it was a human error on Election Day that led to the ballots not being counted.

Election officials found the error during Tuesday’s recount because all of the unopened ballots were under opened certificate envelopes, she said.

“Knowing how thorough we are at central count, I have no doubt that they brought these ballots up to the table saying that they were complete, not indicating to anyone that half of the ward was missing,” Woodall-Vogg said. “So if there is one positive to come out of the recount it’s that every vote is indeed being counted, including these 386.”

Woodall-Vogg said she had presumed there had been lower in-person turnout in that ward on Election Day, but hadn’t had time to analyze it by breaking down absentee and polling place turnout.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the totals from the new ballots had not been announced.

Woodall-Vogg said she anticipated the votes could boost Trump’s total in the city, based on the location of the ward.

“We will see when we run the full results,” Woodall-Vogg said. “I don’t think it was anything malicious. I think that we’ll see that the results will essentially double for absentee in that ward, though.”

Ald. Scott Spiker, whose district includes the ward where the ballots were found, asked during a Common Council meeting taking place at the same time as the recount that the city Election Commission come before a committee to explain to aldermen what happened.

Spiker later told the Journal Sentinel that he was “shocked” to hear about the ballots.

“Obviously, this is very important, people’s democratic right to select their representatives,” Spiker said. “And to hear a number of my constituents didn’t have their votes counted at the time was very distressing. I understand they’ll factor into the final tally in the recount, but I definitely have some questions about how this happened and why it wasn’t caught before now.”

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said Milwaukee may finish counting on Saturday, but could continue past that.

Poll workers will continue the recount through Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. They will take Thursday off for Thanksgiving and return to their duties on Friday, he said.

‘It’s getting faster and faster’

In Madison, the recount continued at a reasonable clip Tuesday, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said.

More than 125,000 ballots – 36% of the county’s total – had been recounted as of Tuesday morning. McDonell said he expected the recount to be about halfway done by the end of the day.

Tabulators have focused on the county’s small and midsized communities so far but will begin retallying Madison’s ballots by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, he said.

“The first day was slow. The second day was less slow and it’s getting faster and faster,” McDonell said.

On Wednesday, the county’s Board of Canvassers will hear a challenge from Trump’s campaign to the “Democracy in the Park” events Madison held this fall.

At those events, poll workers fanned out across more than 200 parks to accept absentee ballots that voters had received by mail. They also served as witnesses for absentee voters who needed them.

Election officials have said the program was allowed by state law, saying the poll workers served largely the same function as ballot drop boxes. Republicans have alleged the events amounted to a form of in-person, early voting before the state’s early-voting period began.

The Board of Canvassers is expected to reject the challenge, but the Trump campaign could appeal the ruling to court as it tries to throw out thousands of votes.

McDonell didn’t offer a prediction for when Dane County will complete its recount, which must be finished by Dec. 1.

Poll workers will continue the recount through Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. They will take Thursday off for Thanksgiving and return to their duties on Friday, he said.

‘The outcome will not be changed’

Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican who represented Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District for 20 years, noted the important move Monday by the General Services Administration to formally begin the transition.

“I think maybe even more important is that these legal challenges to the outcome and the attacks on our voting system really need to stop, in my opinion,” Ryan said. “The outcome will not be changed, and it will only serve to undermine our faith in our system of government, our faith in our democracy.”

Ryan, a losing vice presidential candidate in 2012, said he knows “firsthand what it’s like to lose a national election, and it is a terrible feeling. It is not pleasant, and I know there are a lot of people in this country who are really disappointed.

“But I think it’s really important that we’re clear about this, which is the mere fact that the president’s lawyers throw these sort of baseless conspiracy theories out at press conferences but offer no evidence of these in court tells you that there is not the kind of widespread voter fraud or systemic voter fraud that would be required to overturn the outcome of this election.”

Ryan told the conference that he has known Biden “for many years” and called him a “good guy” and a “nice person.”

“I personally think it’s in Joe Biden’s best interest – he obviously would not want to hear this – for us to win these Georgia Senate seats, because then he really does have divided government and he really does have to work with both sides of the aisle and you won’t have the building pressure from the left to try and jam the other side.”

© © 2020 Journal Media Group


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