Rock County election officials say they are confident that no catastrophic errors will be found in the county’s election results as counties across Wisconsin prepare for an impending recount request by President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said her office has been preparing for a recount since last year and had consistently based training on the assumption of a recount request by either candidate.
That preparation includes clerks from all Rock County municipalities submitting all election-related documentation to the county. Ballots already are being sorted by municipality to expedite recount preparations, Tollefson said.
A recount in Wisconsin was requested in the 2016 presidential election, but this year a recount would take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Tollefson and other clerks have created environments to help keep the public and election workers safe in earlier elections this year.
The threat of COVID-19 could change the recount venue in Rock County, Tollefson said.
The location for a recount must be publicly announced. In 2016, it was handled at the Rock County Courthouse in second-floor conference space. Tollefson said it’s a “possibility” a recount this year would be held at the Rock County Jobs Center in Janesville.
“We want to make sure that we keep everyone safe, our dedicated volunteers and the public, as we navigate a recount,” she said.
A record 85,617 people voted in Rock County on Tuesday, exceeding 2012’s record turnout of 81,509. That’s about 70% of the county’s eligible voters and nearly 89% of registered voters.
The timing of recount results will depend on whether the county can tabulate ballots on automated machines or if election workers must count ballots by hand. Tollefson said more guidance would come from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
She stressed that all Rock County ballots were secured and placed in tamper-evident packaging ahead of the county canvass, which will take place Monday.
The statewide canvass will be performed afterward, and that would prompt the Trump campaign to file its recount petition if it plans to do so.
Beloit Clerk-Treasurer Lori Stottler, who served as county clerk before Tollefson, said she is “100% confident” in Beloit’s reporting from Tuesday’s election.
Janesville Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek expressed similar confidence in Janesville’s results.
“My inclination, having been through three recounts, is that the machines do things right,” he said.
Godek said the voting machines are programmed by the Rock County clerk and rigorously tested by municipal clerks before every election, creating a “decentralized” system of checks and balances to maintain the integrity of election results.
Local clerks would play a secondary role in any recount, Godek said—mostly being there for their community’s part of the recount and available to answer questions.
“I am extremely confident in the work that went into Tuesday, and we went into the election knowing a recount was probably going to occur,” Stottler said. “It will be very confirming when we get this recount.”
Under state law, the Trump campaign would have to pay for a recount because more than 0.25 percentage points separate Trump’s vote total from Democrat Joe Biden’s total. The state would reimburse counties for any resources they used on the recount process.
“It’s not going to end up being a burden to the city budget,” Stottler said.
Observers would be allowed at the recount facility, but Tollefson said the observers most likely would be representatives from the respective presidential campaigns.
“I usually spend a majority of my time explaining all the rules to the observers during a recount to help explain the process and shed more light on what is going on,” Tollefson said.
Gazette staffer Ann Fiore contributed to this report.