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Wisconsin Recount Begins: How It's Different Than The County Canvasses Just Completed

Becca Schimmel
Volunteers line up for Milwaukee County's recount of the presidential election at the Wisconsin Center downtown.

On Thursday, state elections officials granted the Trump campaign’s request for a partial recount in Wisconsin. It covers only Democratic-leaning Milwaukee and Dane counties.

The official order Thursday kicks off a 13-day clock by which the recount has to be completed.

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It will trigger the first counting of individual ballots since Election Day, says Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe.

“On Election Day, they have to seal all the ballots into ballot bags with tamper-evident seals, and they’re only opening those in a recount,” Wolfe explains. "In a recount, election workers go through and verify that none of the seals is broken and that the number of ballots issued matches the polling place log. Workers also review problems that came up on Election Day."

Wolfe says the canvass recently conducted by local governments also served as a double-check of the process, by making sure the correct number of ballots have been issued and that the equipment has counted everything correctly.

But, unlike a recount, the canvass is not a count of each individual ballot. “And so, the difference between a canvass and a recount is really counting the ballots again,” says Wolfe. “[The objective of a recount is to] make sure you’ve got the count right and everything reconciled.”

Representatives of the campaigns are able to observe the recount and raise objections to the county board of canvassers.

“[Representatives can question] if an absentee ballot envelope was sufficient, if a ballot was remade and there’s questions about the voter’s intent,” Wolfe says. “They can bring up questions like that, and the board of canvassers gets to decide.”

Wolfe addressed allegations Thursday from members of the Trump team, like Rudy Giuliani. He claims that there were 100,000 absentee ballots cast in Milwaukee and Dane counties without an application. Wolfe says nothing like this was found during the recent canvass.

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She explains that throughout the canvass, there were steps required for what is called “reconciliation.” That means making sure all the records of the election line up.

“In order for a voter to be in the poll book, they have to be registered to vote, first of all, and then they have to have requested an absentee ballot," Wolfe says. "And so all of that information is contained in not only the poll book, but in our absentee ballot logs. And all of that information has to match up.”

Wolfe says if things like the number of registrations and the number of applications didn’t reconcile during the canvass, workers would have had to dig deeper – even before the recount.

She says the boards of canvass didn’t detect any issues, and those certified canvass statements are posted on the Wisconsin Elections Commission website.

Wolfe says election administrators look forward to demonstrating the integrity of the process in Wisconsin as the recount unfolds.

“I know that the eyes of the world will be on these two Wisconsin counties for the next few weeks,” says Wolfe.

The Milwaukee County recount begins Friday morning and continues each day except Thanksgiving. Recounts in both Dane and Milwaukee Counties must be completed by Dec. 1.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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