A partial recount of the 2020 presidential election began Friday, Nov. 20, in Madison and Milwaukee — and the Trump campaign is already pushing back on how the re-tallying is being done.

Early on in the proceedings, the Trump campaign, which filed the paperwork and payment for a partial presidential election recount earlier this week, raised concerns foreshadowed in its official recount request: that thousands of ballots were "illegally issued" or "illegally altered" during the 2020 presidential election.

Representatives for the president's campaign also pushed back on social distancing and other procedures in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they were not able to effectively monitor the re-tallying of ballots.

While efforts to exclude a large number of ballots from the recount were rebuffed by election officials, the conflict is already highlighting the possibility that a legal challenge could come soon after the recount is completed.

Dane County canvassers reject Trump campaign calls to exclude ballots

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Dane County began processing ballots Friday morning by hand. It plans to use high-speed counting machines in subsequent days of the recount.

Shortly after the Dane County recount began, Christ Troupis, a Trump campaign representative, raised concerns about recount observers’ lack of access to absentee ballot applications. The campaign argued in its official recount request that tens of thousands of absentee ballots were issued in Wisconsin without applications.

The three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers, two Democrats and one Republican, rejected the call to exclude from the recount ballots that don't have accompanying paper applications. That would include all ballots cast at in-person early voting sites ahead of Election Day, because officials don't require voters to fill out an application at early voting sites. That policy has been in place for years.

"It was an effort to exclude a large percent of absentee ballots in Dane County," said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell.

Officials have previously refuted the claim that those absentee ballots were issued illegally, saying municipal clerks followed state laws when conducting early voting. Record numbers of Wisconsin voters participated in early voting this year.

McDonell said if the Trump campaign were to challenge the policy in court, which some believe it will do when the recount is complete, it would have "profound ramifications across the entire state."

The Trump campaign also attempted at the Dane County recount to exclude absentee ballots that were associated with ballot envelopes altered by clerks to include addresses for voters' witnesses and all ballots that were issued by voters who classified themselves as "indefinitely confined."

Voters who say they are indefinitely confined are not required to include a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot application.

While raising the objection, Troupis said he has a spreadsheet of voters' names who are not actually indefinitely confined, but claimed to be so on their absentee ballot applications.

The Dane County Board of Canvassers rejected both of those exclusions as well.

McDonell criticized the challenges, because all the of the policies in question were utilized statewide during the election.

"(It's) just really inappropriate to target two counties to try to make a legal point and exclude their votes," he said.

A Biden campaign representative said it also opposes the objections, pointing out the absentee ballot procedures in question had been in place for several elections and no campaign, including the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential recount, previously objected to them.

"We had voters who relied on the advice of their clerks and lawfully voted," the Biden representative said.

Trump campaign pushes back on observer access in Milwaukee

Milwaukee County, which will use five machines for its recount, was also set to begin its re-tallying Friday morning, but proceedings were delayed because checking in several hundred observers at the recount site took longer than expected.

Early on in the day, Stewart Karge, a Trump campaign representative, raised concerns about observers' ability to see ballots well enough to effectively monitor the process.

"Either in a sitting position or in a standing position, they are unable to see," Karge said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, observers have to maintain physical distancing, and plexiglass is being used as a safety measure to help prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.

The recount must be finished by Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said he hopes to have the recount finished by Thanksgiving.

"So we don’t have to ruin people’s Thanksgiving holiday for an unnecessary recount," Christenson said. He said he's upset the recount is happening during the surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think it’s irresponsible by the Trump campaign and by Donald Trump himself, and it shows his lack of empathy for the American people," Christenson said.

According to certified results from county clerks finalized Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump by 20,608 votes in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's 2016 presidential recount, paid for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, resulted in a net change of 131 votes, in favor of the president.

Before the recount in Milwaukee County began Friday, Nov. 20, protesters from Souls to the Polls and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said Donald Trump should be focused on the pandemic, instead of recounting votes. (Corrinne Hess / WPR)
Before the recount in Milwaukee County began Friday, Nov. 20, protesters from Souls to the Polls and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said Donald Trump should be focused on the pandemic, instead of recounting votes. (Corrinne Hess / WPR)

A small group of protesters from Souls to the Polls and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stood outside the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee holding large letters spelling the word "decide."

The group said voters have already decided the presidential election, not Trump, and the president should be focused on the worsening pandemic instead of recounting votes.

Rev. Gregory Lewis is the founder and president of Souls to the Polls and recovered from COVID-19. Lewis said people can’t be with their families over Thanksgiving and are losing loved ones to the virus.

"(Trump) has turned his back on everything that needs to be done to resolve that situation and still thinks he deserves to cause people all this discomfort by doing things like this, recalls and accusations of fraud," Lewis said. "That is just insane. Sensible people should not put up with that kind of nonsense."

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