How Wisconsin’s Presidential Recount Will Work

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On Monday the Wisconsin Elections Commission is expected to provide details on the timing of its 2016 presidential election recount. (Update: proposed schedule can be found here.) Green Party candidate Jill Stein has requested the recount and on Saturday Hillary Clinton’s lawyer indicated that her campaign plans to participate. Unofficial results show that out of almost 3 million ballots cast in Wisconsin, Trump is ahead by roughly 27,000 votes.

The recount will be the sum of 72 separate recounts in each of Wisconsin’s counties. A recount in Wisconsin has rules and timelines that are set by law. Highlights include:

  • Ballots are randomly chosen to be discarded if there’s a problem with the information on an absentee ballot envelope.
  • Local election officials decide what the final tally is and decide if the ballots are counted by hand or by machine.
  • Some counties use paper ballots, some use electronic voting machines.
  • Paper ballots can be run through optical scanners, but each one has to be examined beforehand to determine if there is a write-in vote.

The recount is supposed to be public. Media and other interested people may watch, but only election officials can touch the ballots.

Absentee ballots could be a point of dispute. Wisconsin recently made its absentee ballot law more strict. Absentee ballots require the signature of a witness on the outside of the envelope in which it is submitted. If the witness does not write down his or her city, the ballot is supposed to be rejected and left unopened. However, the unopened rejected ballots are examined as part of the recount and it is possible they may be opened and counted if they were rejected improperly. Wisconsin voters cast 830,763 absentee ballots in 2016 — that’s a little more than one quarter of the ballots cast.

The opened absentee ballot envelopes are also examined in the recount. If any of the envelopes are found not to have all of the required information, then the election officials are instructed to go back to the ballots and randomly remove a number of ballots equal to the number of incomplete envelopes.

The state is working under a federal deadline of December 13 to complete the recount. As a result, county boards of canvassers may need to work evenings and weekends to meet the deadlines.

Full recount rules

Here’s the recount manual issued by the Wisconsin Election Commission earlier this month.

Wisconsin Recount Manual- November 2016 by mcint011 on Scribd

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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