Walters: Republicans vow to review recount process

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Steven Walters
Monday, December 19, 2016

After local clerks hired an army of temporary workers to recount 2.97 million votes for president in a 10-day period, and the Green Party candidate who finished fourth paid $3.5 million for the recount, what did Wisconsin learn?

Before you answer, consider that the first presidential recount in Wisconsin history found only 397 more votes, and widened—by 131 votes—the winning margin of President-elect Donald Trump. In 2011, a statewide Supreme Court election recount found 352 more votes, out of 1.5 million votes cast.

Still, the answer to the “lessons learned” question depends on whom you ask.

“Wisconsin did not look like Florida” in 2000, Elections Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen observed, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s halt of a recount in that state. That court order elected Republican President George W. Bush.

Wisconsin’s presidential recount was “flawless,” Thomsen added.

But some Republicans say the recount surfaced issues that must be researched, and maybe fixed.

“While the recount was more of a publicity stunt than anything else, at the very least it proved that our state has a fair and trustworthy system because of our efforts to reduce fraud with the implementation of voter ID,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

“Moving forward, we will investigate additional ways to reform our election laws to reduce any chance of fraud,” Vos added. “The Assembly Republican caucus will also discuss changes to the recount statute to insure Wisconsin taxpayers don’t bear any of the costs of future recounts.”

Republican Rep. David Craig, who will be sworn in as a state senator Jan. 3, told watchdog.org that the recount was a “colossal waste of time and resources.”

“Our statutes allowed liberals to hijack this process and disrupt the lives of the hundreds of Wisconsinites who had to conduct this recount,” Craig added.

And, Republican Gov. Scott Walker told reporters recount laws are “something we’ll look at modifying.”

But Kevin Kennedy, who had about 35 years of overseeing elections before he was forced into retirement by the creation of separate state Elections and Ethics commissions, said: “When a known loser is willing to give the state $3.5 million for a recount, it’s one of the best things that could have happened to the new commission.”

The recount was a “performance evaluation” of Wisconsin’s election process—and proved it works well, Kennedy added.

But the recount raised these issues:

n Who can request recounts: Green Party candidate Jill Stein got only 1 percent of the vote, but she used a law that says, if a candidate pays for a recount, they get one. Stein’s campaign wired the state $3.5 million to force a 72-county recount.

State law says, if the difference between two candidates is 0.25 percent or less, a recount is free. State law used to allow free recounts if the difference was 0.5 percent or less, but Kennedy said it was changed because legislators felt too many recounts were being held.

Legislators will consider whether a fourth-place finisher should be able to force a recount they have no chance of winning.

At a West Allis rally last week, Trump called Wisconsin’s recount a “scam” organized by Democrats. Stein “got less than 1 percent, but she thought she was going to catch us,” Trump added.

n Deadline to seek recount: If a losing candidate wants a recount, how much notice should they have to give state and local officials, so they can begin to prepare?

Stein’s request gave state officials and local election clerks only 10 days to recount 2.97 million votes—a deadline imposed by today’s meeting of Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College members.

n Hand count versus machine count: Stein’s campaign went to court to try and force a vote-by-vote recount, but a federal judge refused to order it. Instead, local clerks could choose to recount by hand or by machine.

But, Kennedy said, “For all practical purposes, we have a hand recount. Every single (ballot) gets looked at,” even if final vote totals come from voting machines.

n Reimburse state government costs: State Elections Commission staffers worked long hours on the recount, but state law says only local government costs will be reimbursed.

The state Elections Commission needs the money. Federal cash that pays the salaries of more than half of its employees runs out next year.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscwalters@gmail.com.


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