The 2020 presidential election recount in Dane County was held at Monona Terrace in Madison.

Dane County election officials today rejected President Trump’s attempt to throw out every absentee ballot cast Nov. 3 as a recount got underway, providing an early look at the legal challenge that could follow once the process is over.

Trump campaign attorney Christ Troupis argued the Dane County Board of Canvassers should reject the absentee ballots claiming there isn’t physical evidence to prove every one of them had a written application.

An attorney for the Dane County clerk pointed out that while the law requires written absentee ballot applications, they don’t need to be a part of the recount and haven’t been in previous recounts like the one for the 2016 presidential election where Trump carried the state by less than 23,000 votes. 

The Board of Canvassers — made up of two Dems and one Republican — unanimously rejected the attempt to throw out the ballots on those grounds. It also rejected other challenges the campaign lodged on the first day of the recount.

Trump campaign observers filed what they called “standing objections” to all absentee ballots where clerks filled in the address of voters who didn’t write it themselves on the ballot envelope; that is a practice carried out in 11 previous elections without objection, according to the Biden campaign. And Trump campaign observers also filed objections to all absentee ballots where voters claimed to be indefinitely confined and thus didn’t need to provide a photo ID. 

In Milwaukee County, the Board of Canvassers was considering a series of concerns and requests made by the Trump campaign’s designated representative just as election officials were set to begin the recount this morning.

For one, Trump representative Stewart Karge said he was concerned about plexiglass barriers erected as part of the COVID-19 safety protocols the county is following for the recount. He also said he was worried about the distance between those tallying ballots and the campaign’s observers.

He also put forward a list of eight requests, including setting aside: 

*written applications for absentee ballots,
*absentee ballot envelopes without a corresponding written application,
*envelopes with addresses listed in different color ink than the corresponding signature,
*and all envelopes and applications with an indefinitely confined designation.

Karge also requested absentee ballot logs be made available for review by observers. That includes absentee ballot application requests made online through the MyVote system and copies of corresponding photo IDs.

He also asked for data from tabulating machines and images of ballots be preserved and made available for observation.

The Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers — which is made up of county Election Commissioners Rick Baas, Dawn Martin and Tim Posnanski — was still discussing those requests as of 2:45 p.m. Baas is a Republican while Martin and Posnanski are Dems.

Meanwhile, canvassers in Dane County rejected all three attempts to remove votes from the recount total. They also rejected a Trump team request that officials present two separate vote totals: one total recount and one recount if the objections were honored. 

“Clearly the point is to take this to the Supreme Court,” said County Clerk Scott McDonell, who sits on the three-member board. “It’s an attack on the absentee ballot process, on the whole framework.”

He added he doubts the courts would “look favorably” on the Trump campaign’s assertions, especially since they’re only demanding a recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties even though their objections would affect all 72 counties statewide. 

The other board members in Dane County include Joyce Waldrop for the GOP and Alan Arnsten for Dems. 

Waldrop, before siding with the other two canvassers in rejecting the Trump objections, said she’s a “supporter of the law,” and that she supports state law requiring absentee applications. And she said she believes the process elections have operated under upholds that law. 

While she sided with her other board members for nearly all votes, she did vote in favor of segregating the ballots of those who marked themselves as indefinitely confined. The board still rejected the measure 2-1. 

The recount effort itself began slowly today in Monona Terrace, with tallies paused for the bulk of the morning while Biden and Trump campaign officials presented their arguments and objections before the board. 

McDonell said he expects the pace to pick up in the coming days now that campaign officials have laid out their standing objections.

Officials started bringing in recount observers from the campaigns around 9 a.m. The bulk of the people gathered in the terrace’s exhibition hall on the first level. 

Observers for the Trump campaign carried white binders and sat on opposite sides of plexiglass walls from tabulators. McDonell said while it’s important observers can see what’s going on, he asked them to sit as far apart as possible due to COVID concerns. 

Election officials for the most part won’t be counting ballots today. That process begins tomorrow after a public demonstration of the counting machines. The focus today instead is on matching the number of ballots with the number reported on Election Day. 

But officials did start a hand count of the Dane County portion of the city of Edgerton, whose borders mostly reside to the south in Rock County. 

McDonell in an address before the count reminded everyone to wear masks and keep their distance from each other in an attempt to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 in the building. 

He later said he fully expects there to be some asymptomatic carriers in the crowded room, and his biggest worry was that people might talk often and loudly throughout the day, spreading the virus through the air and also making it harder to hear what’s going on as sound amplifies. 

Shortly after his address observers began to congregate and talk amongst themselves. McDonell warned the groups were “endangering everyone in this room,” and that “we’re not going to make it to Christmas” if people don’t follow safety protocols. 

Everyone in the building wore face masks, with most but not all of them covering both their mouth and nose. And while canvassers threatened people may be thrown out if found not observing precautions, didn’t witness anyone being removed from the building.

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