Presidential recount kicks off in Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE — Across Wisconsin Thursday an army of county clerks and election workers began the 13-day race to recount nearly 3 million presidential ballots in the nation's first statewide presidential recount since 2004.

President-elect Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by some 22,000 votes in Wisconsin and most experts say the recount has little chance of changing the outcome.

But Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who got a little over 1% of the Wisconsin vote, pushed for the recount amid unsubstantiated claims that there was a chance the election election might have been hacked and put up $3.5 million to cover the costs. Stein is also pressing for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

In many counties, the recount got off to a slow start, with the tedium of paperwork, record-keeping and counting ballots poised to play out day after day to a Dec. 13 deadline to certify the results.

Capturing the mood and determination to complete the task was Marinette County Clerk Kathy Brandt who said she was relying on "coffee, caffeine and chocolate" to keep her tabulators happy and even planning to play Christmas music CDs.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Election Commission said that starting Friday the agency will be trying to gather and release daily recount data from each county in the state showing any tally changes for voting wards.

In addition, the agency will be collecting an explanation from local officials for all the cases in which 10 or more votes are changed in a given reporting unit.

In the official count of the 2.98 million votes cast in Wisconsin, Trump was certified to have won by 22,177 votes. The final numbers could shift but the outcome is unlikely to change if this recount behaves as other statewide recounts have in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Forty-nine counties are conducting their recounts solely by hand, with 10 more counties tallying some ballots by hand in some areas and ballot scanning machines in others, according to the Stein campaign. The 13 remaining counties are using the optical scanners more heavily.

The last statewide presidential recount appears to have occurred in Ohio in 2004 and changed the vote tallies in the race by only about 300 votes. Then-president George W. Bush, a Republican, won that contest over Democrat John Kerry.

A far more prominent fight took place in Florida in 2000, as the recount of the presidential vote there between Bush and Democrat Al Gore became part of the U.S. Supreme Court case that left Bush as the winner in that race.

In Milwaukee, amid tight security, about 130 workers surrounded by dozens of election observers packed into the City of Milwaukee Election Commission warehouse.

The Milwaukee County Election Commission voted to conduct a machine rather than a hand recount of the 440,247 ballots.

"There may be a slight variance in the number of votes cast. You know, there's always human error, so a few votes could change hands," Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said. "But I don't anticipate that the outcome of the election will change."

Meanwhile, Clark County Clerk Christina Jensen is conducting the recount by hand, partly because most voting precincts used paper ballots but also to put people’s minds at ease.

“We’re a small county, so it’s almost just as fast to hand count,” Jensen said.

Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Novack plans two daily 8-hour shifts of workers, even on the weekends, as they race to finish the recount of 240,417.

"Logistically, it's huge," she said. "The burden on staffing is very significant. People talk about the cost but there is a huge human cost."

Poll workers received $10 an hour in Waukesha County and $15 an hour in Milwaukee County, while in Calumet County workers received $100 for the day.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office will have a deputy stationed at the Ashwaubenon recount site around the clock for the duration of the count. The charge to the Stein campaign will be $65 per hour, reflecting time-and-a-half pay plus the value of the deputy's benefits.

Lois Jean Clifton and Darlene Dunbar worked their third recount as canvassers in Iowa County.

"This is the big one. One other recount took us two days, " said Clifton, gathered with others in the basement of the Iowa County Courthouse in Dodgeville. "I don't know how long this will take. But it's a privilege being here and doing my civic duty."

At the Walworth County Courthouse in Elkhorn, Jim Shepard, an Illinois resident who voted for Clinton, was signed up to be an Green Party observer.

"I don't have any thought that the presidential election will change," Shepard said. "But I hope it helps to make voting more accurate."

Manitowoc County Clerk Lois Kiel said the people working the recount "are real troopers. This is monotonous and very tedious work and they have to be very accurate.”

Beverly Searvogel, deputy city clerk for Appleton, said the recount provides "an opportunity for the rest of the world to see what we do in the election process, not just on election day. We have months and months of preparation to anticipate this…We hope this can help educate people and help them understand the process. There’s a lot out there that isn’t true and this opens a window to that process."

Contributing: Mary Spicuzza and Don Behm, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Jonathan Anderson, Madeleine Behr, Noell Dickman, Ethan Safran, Alisa Schafer and Doug Schneider, USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin. Follow Bill Glauber, Jason Stein and Meg Jones on Twitter: @BillGlauber, @jasonmdstein and @MegJonesJS 


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