The Trump campaign on Wednesday filed a petition for a partial recount in Wisconsin, where President Donald Trump trails President-elect Joe Biden, the apparent winner of the state, by more than 20,000 votes.
The campaign wired $3 million to the Wisconsin Election Commission for the long-shot bid to overturn the state results. In a statement, the campaign said it was asking for recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties, mostly Democratic areas in which Biden defeated Trump by large margins. Biden captured more than 75 percent of the vote in Dane and more than 69 percent of the vote in Milwaukee.
"These two counties were selected because they are the locations of the worst irregularities," the campaign said in a release, charging that they were areas where there were "illegally altered absentee ballots, illegally issued absentee ballots, and illegal advice given by government officials allowing Wisconsin’s Voter ID laws to be circumvented."
The state’s top elections chief and local officials have said there were no reports of widespread problems or wrongdoing.
The Biden campaign shrugged off the development.
"Election officials worked extremely hard under unprecedented circumstances to ensure all votes were counted quickly and accurately, and the recount demanded and paid for by the Trump campaign will once again confirm Joe Biden’s victory,” Nate Evans, the campaign's Wisconsin communications director, said.
The Trump campaign, which had been soliciting donations for a recount, had until the close of business Wednesday to ask for it. The recount must be completed ahead of the state's Dec. 1 certification deadline. The solicitations to raise funds for recounts and election court challenges have included a disclaimer noting that 60 percent of the money will go to pay down debts from the general election and that the funds will go to a "recount account" only after those debts have been paid or people have maxed out on what they can contribute to Trump's re-election. The remaining 40 percent goes to the Republican National Committee.
A full statewide recount would have cost $7.9 million, including expenses for extra safety precautions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed for a statewide recount in the 2016 election after Trump won the state by almost 23,000 votes. Trump, the president-elect, had mocked those efforts, calling Stein's move a "scam" designed to “fill her coffers with money, most of which she will never even spend on this ridiculous recount."
The "results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused, which is exactly what Jill Stein is doing,” Trump said then. The president's son Eric had tweeted that the $3.5 million Stein's campaign was spending could have saved at least "5,000 Children's Lives."
The recount wound up netting Trump a little more than 100 votes.
Under Wisconsin law, a second-place finisher has the right to petition for a recount if they are losing by less than 1 percent of the vote, but the campaign has to pay the costs.
State elections officials said late Wednesday morning that they had "received a wire transfer from the Trump campaign for $3 million," and the campaign's petition was hand-delivered a short time later. “We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks," elections chief Meagan Wolfe said in a statement.
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Brian Rothgery, a spokesman with Milwaukee County, said they are "very well prepared" for a recount. County officials are in communication with municipal clerks, have reserved a large space to ensure social distancing, and have a schedule in place. The county will begin counting on Friday if the official recount order is submitted from the state Elections Commission on Thursday, as planned.
Officials estimate that some municipalities will complete counts within one day, while Milwaukee, the largest city in the state, should complete its count within six days.
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson told reporters that he thought Milwaukee and Dane counties were chosen by the campaign because they are “Democratic strongholds, and Milwaukee is a majority minority city,” not because there are more irregularities as the Trump campaign claims. He called Trump's effort “just another form of voter suppression.”
Trump has repeatedly made claims of fraud and irregularities in the Wisconsin election, without evidence. A federal lawsuit making similar claims to the Trump campaign's was withdrawn Monday.
In an interview along with Christenson on MSNBC, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell told Ayman Mohyeldin that the amount of misinformation coming from the White House is "so frustrating."
"George and I trained for a year-and-a-half or more for this kind of disinformation to come from the Kremlin. You know, that's what we were trying to figure out how we were going to try to mitigate that disinformation and point it out," he said. "We never thought it would be coming from ourselves, from within the United States."
As of Wednesday morning, Biden was leading Trump 49.5 percent to 48.8 percent, or 1,630,716 votes to 1,610,151.