(Headline USA) The Wisconsin Elections Commission late Wednesday, after an hours-long often-contentious debate, agreed to issue an order on Thursday to recount ballots cast in Milwaukee and Dane counties as requested by President Donald Trump.
Trump paid the $3 million required for the recount and issuing the order was expected to be a pro forma move, but it instead resulted in nearly six hours of arguing. The partisan fighting before the recount has even started likely foreshadows the battle that lies ahead.
The commission, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, argued over changes to its manual that provides guidance to local elections officials over how to conduct recounts.
HOURS after @TeamTrump filed the Wisconsin recount petition, the Wisconsin Election Commission met to vote on amending the recount manual to make it more difficult to have an accurate recount. Vote result coming soon!
I will share details on @seanhannity at 9 pm ET!
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) November 19, 2020
“We filed this petition in Wisconsin for a recount in two counties… One of those counts says that in the state of Wisconsin, if you are indefinitely confined, you can cast an absentee ballot without showing voter ID,” said White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on “Hannity” last night. “Last election, 72,000 people did that, this election 240,000 people did that, presumably using COVID and fears of COVID as an excuse, so it was a way to circumvent voter ID.
“We filed this recount petition and in it, we allege that we need to see the absentee voter applications because it’s an important aspect of Wisconsin law and they weren’t doing these applications, they were just giving people ballots. As we speak right now, you have the election board trying to change the way the recount laws work to make sure we’re not able to count those applications for absentee ballots.”
Ultimately, the commission decided not to reference the manual in the order, but they did update some parts to reflect accommodations for the coronavirus pandemic.
The commissioners deadlocked on making changes to the manual that Democrats and elections commission staff said would bring the guidance into line with current state law. Republicans balked, saying the guidelines should not be changed after Trump filed for the recount.
Their inability to agree leaves in place guidance that says absentee ballot applications must be approved as part of the recount, even though commission staff said that’s not required under the law.
“It’s just remarkable the six of us in a civilized fashion can’t agree to this stuff,” Democratic commissioner Mark Thomsen said hours into the debate.
Democratic commissioners said they were certain the recount, which the counties must complete by Dec. 1, was headed to court even though Trump’s claims were without merit. Democrat Joe Biden carried Wisconsin by 20,608 votes under the current count, and he leads Dane and Milwaukee counties by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Board Chair Ann Jacobs, a Democrat, said Trump’s allegation that election clerks mailed thousands of absentee ballots to voters who hadn’t requested them was “absurd,” “factually bizarre” and a “vague, paranoid conspiracy.”
“What we ought not be doing is watering that plant of baloney,” she said.
Republican commissioners Dean Knudson and Bob Spindell questioned whether election observers would be treated fairly by Democratic county clerks in Milwaukee and Madison. At one point, Knudson even appeared to question whether absentee ballots requested through the elections commission’s state website were invalid because of how the requests are recorded.
“I hope we haven’t created a system at WEC that entices people to request a ballot that actually isn’t in keeping with the law,” he said.
Democrats dismissed Knudson’s concerns as outlandish, noting that the system has been in place unchallenged for years.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.