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Politics & Government

Trump Files Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin Election Results

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Erin Schaff
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President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on Thanksgiving on November 26 in Washington, DC.

Updated Wednesday 7:53 a.m. CST

President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Wisconsin seeking to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state's two most Democratic counties, a longshot attempt to overturn Joe Biden's win in the battleground state he lost by nearly 20,700 votes.

Trump filed the day after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission certified Biden as the winner of the state's 10 Electoral College votes. Trump asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, rather than have it start in a lower court, and order Evers to withdraw the certification.

The state's highest court, controlled 4-3 by conservatives, also is considering whether to hear two other lawsuits filed by conservatives seeking to invalidate ballots cast during the presidential election.

Trump repeats many claims he made during a recount of votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties that large swaths of absentee votes were illegally cast. Local officials rejected his claims during the recount, and Trump is challenging procedures that have been in place for years and never been found to be illegal.

Trump is not challenging any ballots cast in conservative counties he won.

The Biden campaign issued a statement calling the lawsuit “completely baseless and not rooted in facts on the ground."

“The hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites targeted by this lawsuit did nothing wrong,” Biden campaign spokesman Nate Evans said. “They simply followed longstanding guidance from elections officials issued under the law.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, said the lawsuit seeks to create a two-tiered election system where voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties are disenfranchised “under much stricter rules than citizens in the rest of the state.”

Trump's Wisconsin attorney, Jim Troupis, said in a statement that voters "deserve election processes with uniform enforcement of the law, plain and simple. During the recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties, we know with absolute certainty illegal ballots have unduly influenced the state’s election results.”

And Trump and his legal team aren’t the only ones making those allegations. Patricia Concha lives in West Allis and said she was a poll observer at Central Count on election day.

“I witnessed Central Count workers modifying certificates writing in address information of witnesses that was missing on certificates. I also witnessed them change the number of days of residence,” Concha said.

Concha spoke at a regularly scheduled virtual meeting of the Wisconsin Elections Commission Tuesday. She called upon commissioners to do whatever they could to ensure the voices of the people be heard.

But not everyone agrees that fraud or other misconduct occurred. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the election was safe, fair and transparent and he says anyone who says otherwise is attempting to discredit the election and the system in place here.

“The claims raised during the recount by the Trump campaign and by President Trump himself are not challenging the accuracy or the legitimacy of the results, rather, they challenge the entire election system in Wisconsin claiming entire groups of absentee by mail an absentee in person ballots were not legitimate. And I would add they are doing so only in select counties,” Barrett says.

Barrett says the Trump campaign is trying to discredit voters in only Milwaukee and Dane counties — places that are largely Democratic, and that are more diverse than other parts of the state. Barrett says it’s a slap in the face to election workers and volunteers who spent countless hours working to ensure the election was a success.

Similar Trump campaign lawsuits have failed in other battleground states.

In Phoenix, a judge has scheduled a Thursday trial in Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward’s lawsuit that seeks to annul Biden’s victory in the state. A judge is letting Ward’s lawyers and experts compare the signatures on 100 mail-in ballot envelopes with signatures on file to determine whether there were any irregularities. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office, which certified Arizona’s election results on Monday, said there was no factual basis for conducting such a review.

Trump is running out of time to have his legal cases heard. The Electoral College is scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 and Congress is to count the votes on Jan. 6.

Trump's Wisconsin lawsuit seeks to discard 170,140 absentee ballots where there was not a written application on file and all absentee ballots cast in person during the two weeks before Election Day.

People who vote in person early fill out a certification envelope in which they place their ballot and which serves as the written record. But the vast majority of absentee requests these days are made online, with a voter’s name entered into an electronic log with no paper record.

Trump wants to toss 5,517 ballots where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted. The state elections commission told clerks before the election that they could fill in missing information on the absentee ballot envelopes, a practice that has been in place for at least the past 11 elections.

Trump also challenges 28,395 absentee ballots where a voter declared themselves to be “indefinitely confined” under the law. Such a declaration exempts voters from having to show photo identification to cast a ballot. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in March ruled that it is up to individual voters to determine whether they are indefinitely confined, a designation used by nearly four times as many voters this year than in 2016 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump also alleges that Madison opened illegal voting sites when the city held events at parks where election workers accepted 17,271 completed absentee ballots from voters looking to avoid crowds and mail delays. City officials said the poll workers at the 220 parks served the same purpose as ballot drop boxes around the state.

When it comes to Trump’s lawsuit, it was filed with the state Supreme Court though state law says such challenges should be brought in circuit court. Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It’s not clear whether justices will take up the lawsuit.

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