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The second day of the presidential recount moved staggeringly slowly Saturday, especially in Milwaukee County — where observers representing President Donald Trump’s campaign objected, objected and objected some more.

One Trump observer, according to a Brown Deer election official, said the campaign was objecting to all absentee ballots because they were folded — even though they must be folded to fit into envelopes.

Other Trump observers objected to the number of piles workers were placing ballots in, according to officials from Cudahy and the City of Milwaukee. Still other Trump observers complained that Oak Creek’s workers were counting too quickly for them to watch properly.

In one Milwaukee ward, observers objected to every envelope. In another, they objected to every absentee ballot.

At times, tempers flared among attorneys and commissioners negotiating the minutia of the recount, which in Milwaukee County is already behind schedule.

In Dane County, meanwhile, the effort moved slowly but more smoothly. The energy inside the Monona Terrace was subdued with only the occasional objection drawing attention.

All ballots from the Nov. 3 election in the two counties — the state’s largest and most Democratic — are being recounted after Trump’s campaign paid $3 million to cover the costs. His campaign hopes to flip the results in Wisconsin, which Democrat Joe Biden won by nearly 21,000 votes.

The long-shot effort is part of an even longer shot attempt by Trump to retain the White House. He would also need to overturn the results in several other states.

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said the count was already behind schedule, with the municipalities that had been set to conduct their recounts on Friday still present and working Saturday.

“As you can see, things are progressing a little bit more slowly than we would like, but we are working hard to address issues as they arise,” Christenson said in an afternoon media briefing.

At some point, if the backlog continues, he said, the county will not have enough tables to accommodate all the municipalities that must recount their ballots.

He didn’t anticipate the delays would raise the $2 million price tag of the Milwaukee County portion of the recount, paid for by the Trump campaign, unless it becomes necessary to get more space and tables to address a backlog. 

The counties have a Dec. 1 deadline to finish the recount.

As the recount grinded on downtown, a group of Trump supporters staged a “Make America Great Again” rally at Mayfair Road and North Avenue in Wauwatosa. The rally came less than 24 hours after eight people were injured in a shooting at the nearby Mayfair mall, which was closed Saturday.

Hundreds of Trump supporters waved American and Trump flags. The controversial Proud Boys group provided “security” for the event, including helping people cross the streets in the high traffic area.

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., a prominent Trump supporter who helped organize the event, said he invited the Proud Boys.

“I want to thank the Proud Boys for being here and providing security for this thing. Where is Tosa police?” Clarke said, adding without them “we’d be on our own.”

Many objections, few invalidated ballots

At the Wisconsin Center, tense exchanges and objections were the rule rather than the exception.

But by 2 p.m., only three ballots had been invalidated. One was a ballot from the Village of Bayside, which was pulled at random and invalidated because one absentee ballot envelope without an address had been accepted in the village.

Soon after the counting started, Trump campaign attorneys Joe Voiland and Stewart Karge demanded that the count “stop immediately,” saying that “hundreds or thousands” of ballots and envelopes that observers had objected to were not set aside by workers.

In some cases, Trump campaign observers objected to broad groups of ballots and envelopes — including every absentee ballot envelope from Ward 5 in the City of Milwaukee and every ballot cast in Ward 1, said Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the city Election Commission.

The two wards, predominantly African American, are on the city’s north side.

Neil Albrecht from the City of Milwaukee said one Trump campaign observer was moving from table to table objecting to every ballot cast in the city.

Poll workers already had been instructed to set aside envelopes where the ink doesn’t match — for example, if the witness signature and address are filled out in a different color ink. They also were instructed to set aside envelopes from “indefinitely confined” voters. Those would be considered later by the county Board of Canvassers.

The three-person panel consists of Democrats Tim Posnanski and Dawn Martin and Republican Rick Baas.

When Milwaukee County election officials questioned Trump campaign attorneys about the flurry of objections, Voiland said the campaign would not be arguing that every folded absentee ballot is invalid — as every absentee ballot is folded to be placed in its envelope.

Exchanges between those negotiating the recount at times grew tense. At one point, Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun told one of the Trump campaign’s attorneys not to talk down to her. Later, a Trump attorney told Daun to direct her legal advice only to the Board of Canvassers.

Christenson said a lack of organization on the Trump side was hampering the very recount the campaign requested.

“The Trump campaign is continually revisiting issues that the commission has ruled on, such as observers saying that they cannot see when, again, that was addressed already,” Christenson, a Democrat, told reporters.

He said there appeared to be a disconnect between the Trump attorneys arguing before the three-member Board of Canvassers and the attorneys in the aisles and the observers at each of the tables where the counting is taking place.

Another issue, Christenson said, was that the observers were “disruptive,” asking question after question and telling the election workers to stop what they’re doing.

“It’s not our job to train their observers on what they’re observing,” he said. “They clearly don’t know what they’re doing and so they keep asking questions. And we’ve said to the Trump campaign, you need to tell your people what you’re looking for here because they’re objecting to every ballot.”

The view from Madison

The Madison recount was slow but less contentious than the wrangling in Milwaukee.

The day started off without issue with the public test of the tabulating machines, said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell. There were no objections, and recount workers were able to start going through ballots and absentee envelopes.

McDonell said Dane County uses Election Systems & Software tabulation systems, which have not been questioned by the Trump campaign, which has been critical of machines from Dominion Voting Systems.

“There’s a bunch of counties that use Dominion, but none of the Dominion counties are a part of the recount,” McDonell noted. 

The only issue that persisted throughout the day was social distancing, McDonell said.

Trump campaign observers started out the day by gathering in large crowds around tables with objections, making some of the Biden observers uncomfortable. Monona Terrace employees made rounds throughout the day, reminding participants to remain 6 feet apart and sit in the provided chairs.

“There’s still some social distancing problems, but compared with yesterday, it’s a dramatic improvement,” McDonell said.

Only a few ballots had been invalidated early Saturday afternoon, he said, mostly because of missing signatures on the absentee envelopes.

The Dane County Board of Canvassers includes McDonell, a Democrat, plus Democrat Allen Arntsen and Republican Joyce Waldrop.

McDonell had no estimation as to when the recount would be completed on Saturday afternoon but said the process should speed up in the coming days now that workers and observers are familiar with the processes. He expected the workers and observers would work until about 8:30 or 9 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Mary Spicuzza at (414) 224-2324 or mary.spicuzza@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MSpicuzzaMJS.

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