The Wisconsin Elections Commission set a timetable Monday for a recount of the presidential election but rejected a request to require a count by hand made by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who quickly responded that she would sue.
Also Monday, Stein filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania to force a recount there and her supporters began filing recount requests at the precinct level there. Stein — who received just a tiny piece of the vote —also plans to ask for a recount in Michigan on Wednesday.
Unless Stein wins her lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court, officials in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties would decide on their own whether to do their recounts by hand. That could mean some counties perform recounts by machine and some by hand.
Citing the results of a 2011 statewide recount that changed only 300 votes, Elections Commission chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, said this presidential recount is very unlikely to change Republican Donald Trump's win in the state.
"It may not be 22,177," said Thomsen, referring to Trump's win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the vote count. "But I don’t doubt that the president-elect is going to win that."
Thomsen dismissed Stein's claims of problems with the vote as unfounded and misleading. But he directed his toughest criticism to Trump's unsupported allegations that millions of people voted illegally nationwide, calling them "an insult to the people that run our elections."
The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. It adopted the recount plans unanimously.
Stein is seeking to pay for the recount of Wisconsin's election — in which she received about 31,000 votes, or 1% — to make sure that Democrat Hillary Clinton really lost Wisconsin to Republican Donald Trump by some 22,000.
Independent candidate Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, who received about 1,500 votes, also requested a recount.
"We must recount the votes so we can build trust in our election system," Stein said in a written statement. "We need to verify the vote in this and every election so that Americans of all parties can be sure we have a fair, secure and accurate voting system.”
Under the plan adopted Monday, the recount would begin Thursday, provided Stein, De La Fuente or both paid by Tuesday.
The recount could cost $1 million and a formal estimate is to be developed Monday based on what counties say the recount will cost them.
If the estimate is high, Stein and De La Fuente will get a refund but if the costs come in above expectations they will have to pay more.
Stein has taken in $6.5 million since Wednesday through an online fundraising blitz to fund her recount efforts. A spokeswoman for De La Fuente said he is considering his options for paying for his share of the recount.
Most machines in Wisconsin are optical readers. Voters fill out a ballot and feed it into the machine, which then electronically records the vote. In a hand recount, clerks would individually tally those ballots. In a machine recount, they would feed the ballots back through the machines, though they would also run a number of other checks such as reconciling the votes and signed names on poll lists.
A small number of votes in Wisconsin are cast on touch-screen machines. Those machines also generate paper records.
For some counties, hand recounts might be faster and less expensive because they could avoid reprogramming their voting machines, according to the Elections Commission.
Under federal law, any disputes over the 2.98 million votes cast in the presidential election must be resolved within 35 days of election day to ensure electoral votes are counted. That’s Dec. 13 this year.
Electors must meet on Dec. 19 this year, and that deadline is more crucial, election experts says. Missing that deadline could put Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes at stake.
The last statewide recount in Wisconsin took about a month to complete. In that 2011 recount, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser hung onto his victory over Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. The margin tightened slightly after a few hundred additional votes were counted.
Securing a recount in Pennsylvania will be more difficult than in Wisconsin.
Pennsylvania law allows recounts to be conducted at a precinct if at least three voters from that precinct request one. Stein's supporters started doing that Monday, but it would take thousands of voters to get them going in all of Pennsylvania's state's precincts.
Pursuing a second track, Stein also filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania court to try to get a statewide recount.
Here’s the timeline for the recount:
- Monday, cost estimates and vote tabulation method will be provided by county clerks to the commission by noon. Commission officials will provide estimated statewide costs to the campaigns of both Stein and De La Fuente by the end of the day.
- Tuesday, the Stein, De La Fuente or both must pay for the recount. Once full payment is received, the commission will issue a recount order to all presidential candidates.
- Wednesday, commission staff will hold a teleconference in the morning for all county clerks and canvass members to outline the process and rules of a recount. Since a 24-hour public meeting notice is required for the recount, each county must post its notice by Wednesday.
- Thursday, recount begins in every Wisconsin county.
- Dec. 12, all county canvass boards must be completed by 8 p.m.
- Dec. 13, Elections Commission staff will prepare the official recount canvass certification by 3 p.m.
- Clinton's campaign announced Saturday that it would take part in the recount process "to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides," campaign general counsel Marc Elias said. Trump took to Twitter over the weekend to pillory Clinton for particiapating in the recount. and his advisers strongly criticized the recount and the Clinton campaign's involvement.
Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee to win Wisconsin since 1984. In addition to her effort under way in Pennsylvania, Stein has said she also intends to pursue a recount in Michigan, another traditionally Democratic states carried by Trump.
Clinton would have to flip the vote in all three states to win the presidency, a possibility that election experts call extremely remote.