Rock County recount finds few changes for Trump, Clinton

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, December 13, 2016

After eight days of recounting, the results of the Nov. 8 presidential vote in Rock County changed little.

Donald Trump's total increased by five, to 31,493. Hillary Clinton's dropped by four, to 39,339.

“I think it was pretty accurate,” County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said of the machine-counted ballots.

The county's board of canvassers certified the results Monday.

Walworth County results won't be announced until its board of canvassers meets later this week, said a worker who answered the phone in the county clerk's office.

The changes in Rock County for the two major candidates came from two sources:

-- Absentee ballots were disqualified in the recount if the voters or their witnesses had not signed them, or because witnesses' addresses were not filled in, Tollefson said. Those items are clearly disqualifiers under voting rules and should not have been counted on Election Day, Tollefson said.

The disqualified ballots came largely from absentee voters who had mailed in their ballots, not from those who voted absentee in person at their municipal clerks' offices, Tollefson said.

-- Some voters voted for either Trump or Clinton but also wrote those candidates' names on the write-in line. On election night, the machines did as they were programmed and followed the rules, disqualifying the presidential votes of anyone who voted twice for president, Tollefson said.

But in the recount, workers noted the double votes were for the same candidate as they fed ballots into the machines.

The county board of canvassers decided that those voters' intent was to vote for that particular candidate, so their votes—one each—were added to the total.

Tollefson said she did not know if boards of canvassers made the same decision in recounts in the 71 other counties.

As reported earlier, Tollefson thought some of these double voters saw the words “write in” on the ballot and thought they were supposed to write in their candidate's name.

The biggest change in Rock County was for a little-known write-in candidate, Evan McMullin. McMullin's total increased from 99 to 168.

Tollefson said poll workers are supposed to tally the write-in votes at the end of the night, at the same time as they are counting the paper ballots to make sure the machine count matches.

Poll workers missed 69 votes for McMullin.

That's one item that will be given renewed emphasis in the local training for municipal clerks and poll workers as a result of the recount, Tollefson said.

McMullin ran as a third-party candidate in 11 states. His strategy was to win at least in his home state, Utah, so he would be considered for president in case neither major-party candidate won the 270 required electoral votes.

In that case, the House of Representatives would have chosen the next president.

Tollefson was pleased with the recount process.

Most of those who did the counting were poll workers or municipal clerks, and as the ballot anomalies arose, they talked among themselves about ways to ensure the count would be more accurate next time, Tollefson said.

Some—notably the Stein campaign—had wanted the ballots recounted by hand to catch any problems with the machines, but Tollefson noted a state-required spot check in the town of Beloit did use a hand count, and those results were identical to the machine count.

In addition, the ballots were scrutinized during the recount process as they were fed into the machines, Tollefson said.

The recounted Rock County results showed 4,554 of the 75,386 voters decided not to vote for Trump or Clinton.

Most of those votes went to Libertarian Gary Johnson, 2,859. Green Party candidate Jill Stein garnered 885. Neither Johnson's nor Stein's totals changed in the recount.

And 642 voters left the presidential section blank but filled out the rest of their ballots, Tollefson said.

Tollefson thought it unusual for that many voters to decline to vote for president.

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