Wisconsin officials OK speedy recount, defend tally

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin election officials pledged Monday they would oversee a fast and fair recount of the presidential vote there, as they race to beat a federal deadline for getting it done, but they declined a request to conduct the new tally by hand saying that can only be ordered by a court.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission signed off on a breakneck pace that would have local officials coordinating the recount — which was sought by the Green Party — with them this week and starting the actual recount near the end of the week. State officials must have their new tally completed by December 13, according to federal law.

Former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein also announced Monday that her supporters had filed a legal petition on behalf of 100 voters in Pennsylvania seeking a recount in that state.

“After a presidential election tarnished by the use of outdated and unreliable machines and accusations of irregularities and hacks, people of all political persuasions are asking if our election results are reliable. We must recount the votes so we can build trust in our election system,” Stein said in a statement.

In Wisconsin, the election panel shot down a request from Stein that the ballots be counted by hand, although the Green Party leader intends to go to court to force a statewide hand recount.

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“If nothing else, this is going to give us a very good audit, it’s going to re-assure Wisconsin voters that we have a fair system, that we’re not counting illegal votes,” said Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen.

He strongly defended the vote count.

“To say we didn’t count them correctly the first time… that somehow illegal votes were counted… is really inappropriate,” Thomsen said. “I don’t think we’ll find in this that our fellow citizens counted these votes (in)accurately — going to reassure — not counting illegal votes … We’re not counting dead people’s votes.”

Wisconsin elections administrator Mike Haas said that if the recount battle moves to the courts, after the commission announces the new tally, it will be out of the commission’s hands. But he cast doubt on it ever reaching the level of the 2000 recount.

“This is certainly not Bush v. Gore,” Haas said. “The likelihood of an appeal is certainly different from the context of that case.”

Haas noted that Bush v. Gore — there was a 537-vote margin — was decided by the Supreme Court on the 35th day after the 2000 election.

The fight in Wisconsin is now likely to move to smaller venues throughout Wisconsin now as lawyers for Stein, Democrat Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party prepare to argue just how the votes are counted here in the next two weeks.

Stein and the Green Party have been leading the fight for a recount here, in Wisconsin, and in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Meanwhile, the former campaign counsel for Hillary Clinton announced over the weekend they would participate in the recount. That, and allegations that hackers threw the election, has had President-elect Donald Trump blasting away at the effort — dubbing it a scam, and firing off his own allegations of voter fraud in states Clinton won.

Thomsen, a Democrat, fired back at Trump Monday and accused him of undermining the faith in American elections.

“Someone has the bully pulpit and somebody has impact on our citizens right to trust what happens down the block at the polling places and you know. I’ve never seen this kind of attack on poll workers, and how this system works,” Thomsen said.

It appears unlikely that the recount in Wisconsin could overturn the results of the election — Clinton lost Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes, according to the current tally. But the battle is likely to keep eyes trained on the narrow margins of victory Trump eked out just three weeks ago to win the White House.

The Wisconsin commissioners also said the recount could end up costing $1 million or more — a number that Stein had easily surpassed as of Monday morning, with $6.3 million raised so far.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former Trump GOP primary opponent who later helped deliver the state for him, tweeted Monday, “We made it easy to vote, hard to cheat in WI elections. Supporters of #Recount2016 were against our Voter ID initiatives.”

Stein and her supporters have cited the potential that the state’s voting machines may have been hacked in their request for the recount, although they have not cited any evidence that they were hacked.

Elections officials were adamant that a hack was all but impossible. Haas said that each machine is isolated from the internet and that any hacker would have to physically tamper with the equipment, one by one.

“We’ve said many times there are a number of reasons of why we are skeptical of claims that voting equipment is not working correctly or is being tampered with,” Haas said.

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