An unprecedented statewide recount of Wisconsin’s presidential election began Thursday morning, bringing no major surprises on day one of what’s expected to be a nearly two-week task of recounting nearly 3 million ballots.
The recount is the first of a presidential election in any state since 2004 and part of a bid by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein to scrutinize votes in three states that tipped the Electoral College to Republican Donald Trump.
Wisconsin’s recount got underway in all 72 counties Thursday. It was requested and paid for by Stein, whose campaign suggested — despite a lack of evidence — that fraud or error may have altered the vote total.
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the state Elections Commission, said shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday that the recount appeared to be proceeding with few glitches.
“So far, things are going smoothly,” Magney said.
The first results in Thursday evening were from Menominee County. Trump lost two votes compared to the initial count and Democrat Hillary Clinton lost one. Stein gained 17 votes and Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up 12 — a discrepancy the state Elections Commission reported was due to “human error” in which their vote totals from certain wards were omitted from the initial tally.
Stein’s campaign has raised more than $6.5 million in recent days, which the campaign says will go toward recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump’s campaign moved Thursday to block the recount in Michigan, saying Stein was seeking it “on the basis of nothing more than speculation.”
Dane County’s share of the Wisconsin recount got underway Thursday morning at the City-County Building in Downtown Madison. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said between 36 and 40 recount workers will work 12 hours a day for as many as 12 days to recount by hand the more than 300,000 ballots cast in the county.
Federal law requires the process be done by Dec. 13, in advance of when the Electoral College convenes on Dec. 19 to formally elect the next president.
McDonell said he expects the recount will change vote totals in Dane and other counties by a very small amount. Official results show Trump beat Clinton by about 22,000 out of nearly 3 million votes cast in Wisconsin, or about 0.7 percentage points. State Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, has said he expects the recount to uphold Trump’s win.
“I think it’ll be very close to what was reported on election night,” McDonell said.
In many cases, vote totals change slightly because a few voters incorrectly filled out their ballots — for instance, by circling a candidate’s name instead of filling in the oval next to their name. Optical scan machines used to tabulate ballots typically do not record such votes on the initial count. But if recount workers determine the voter’s intent was clear, the vote is counted in the recount.
Magney said fewer than five votes were called into question in Pierce County’s recount Thursday due to a malfunction in the paper trail maintained by an electronic touch-screen voting machine there. The machines keep a paper trail for use in a recount, but Magney said the paper mechanism had jammed, causing it to fail to record a legible paper trail for the votes in question. Officials in Pierce County were communicating with the machine vendor to obtain a backup copy of the paper trail, Magney said.
Campaigns on hand
Representatives for the campaigns, including for Stein, Trump and Clinton, were on hand to observe the Dane County recount. Those representatives may object to the count of a vote if there are questions about a voter’s intent or whether the vote is valid.
The bipartisan canvassing board in each county, which includes the county clerk and other members, oversees the process in their county and makes determinations on challenged ballots.
Dane County recount workers, most of them experienced election workers, are paid $20 an hour, McDonell said. The county estimated its share of the recount will cost about $343,000.
On Tuesday Stein’s campaign paid the state Elections Commission $3.5 million, the estimated cost of the recount, to initiate it. If the recount costs less, the campaign will be refunded the difference; if it costs more, the campaign will be billed for it.
“Verifying the vote through this recount is the only way to confirm that every vote has been counted securely and accurately and is not compromised by machine or human error, or by tampering or hacking,” Stein said Thursday.Stein’s campaign, supported by the Clinton campaign, petitioned a Dane County judge to order all counties to recount the vote by hand, but that request was denied.
Fifty-one counties, including Dane, are choosing to do the recount by hand. Twelve are using optical scan machines and nine are using a combination of machines and hand counting.
Nearly two-thirds of the precincts won by Trump are being recounted by hand, compared to slightly less than half the precincts won by Clinton.
State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour and The Associated Press contributed to this report.