Trump’s Legal Team Had a Strategy for the Recount: Get to the WI Supreme Court



By Jessica VanEgeren, Jonathon Sadowski

November 20, 2020

Attorneys find several reasons to challenge absentee ballots, and those cast by voters who are indefinitely confined. 

If one thing is clear following the official start of the recount of the presidential race in Dane and Milwaukee counties, it is that President Donald Trump’s campaign plans to take Wisconsin’s election results to the state Supreme Court.

Armed with white binders that detailed what sort of ballots to look for and then subsequently object to, a few hundred volunteer observers for the Trump campaign in Madison and Milwaukee were ready to gather evidence, so to speak, for the upcoming trial.

Trump’s Legal Team Had a Strategy for the Recount: Get to the WI Supreme Court
A page included in binders distributed to recount observers for outgoing President Donald Trump. (Photo provided)

“Clearly, the point is to take this to the Supreme Court. And that’s fine,” said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell. “They can do that. One thing we are going to work on is to make sure they have the sort of record that they need to take it to court.”

Within an hour of the recount getting underway, Christ Troupis, a legal representative for the Trump campaign, challenged all mail-in absentee ballots if they did not have corresponding written applications asking for the ballot; all absentee ballots cast in-person, since these ballots do not have a written application but an envelope the voter most sign; all votes cast by those who identified as indefinitely confined; and all absentee ballots in which the address of the witness was filled out by the clerk. 

An attorney for the Biden campaign cited state law disputing each of Troupis’ claims, including one that states the application requesting an absentee ballot does not need to accompany the absentee ballot, only be in the same room, during a recount.

Troupis’ challenges prompted votes by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers. The board voted down each request. 

Following the board’s votes not to exclude those category of ballots from the recount, McDonell told reporters the effort to exclude any absentee ballot that did not have an accompanying application with it would exclude all people who voted in-person, absentee during the two weeks leading up to Election Day.

“I don’t know how many ballots that is, but it would be a lot … thousands and thousands of ballots would be excluded,” said McDonell when asked how many ballots would be tossed from the vote total if the state Supreme Court justices sided with the Trump campaign. 

President-elect Joe Biden won the state of Wisconsin by roughly 20,500 votes. Even if the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the Trump campaign and changed the state’s results to a Trump victory, Trump still would not have enough electoral college votes to change the trajectory of the nationwide outcome. Biden would still be the incoming president. 

Trump’s Legal Team Had a Strategy for the Recount: Get to the WI Supreme Court
Stewart Karge, an attorney for the Trump campaign, raises procedural objections Friday morning to the Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers during the county’s recount. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

In Milwaukee, one observer was escorted out by police after he repeatedly refused to wear a face mask correctly. In Madison, the amount of Trump observers necessitated two overflow rooms. Gathered outside prior to the recount—packed together and mostly maskless—they were handed a white binder outlining the types of ballots they intended to single out.

As the recount was starting, one of the Trump campaign organizers told a group of the president’s supporters, “Do not back down. We are very much in hostile territory. I’m from the South. It’s much different up here.”

Before the Milwaukee County recount could get into full swing, Trump campaign representative Stewart Karge on Friday morning raised a litany of procedural objections before the Board of Canvassers. 

“The [Trump] strategy nationwide has been haphazard at best, so your guess is as good as mine,” Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said of Karge’s intentions with raising the objections. 

Karge claimed his observers could not adequately see the process through the clear plexiglass dividers (Christenson told reporters that Trump’s team met with him twice and agreed to the setup), so he requested that elections officials set aside thousands of ballots for review. 

The Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers agreed to set aside all absentee ballot envelopes on which voters claimed the “indefinitely confined” status, and all envelopes with two different colors of ink. 

The board also agreed to bring all written ballot applications to the Wisconsin Center for review.

Some Trump supporters in Milwaukee started shouting as the Board of Canvassers discussed some of the campaign’s challenges, prompting Republican canvasser Rick Baas to stand up and scold them. 

Trump’s Legal Team Had a Strategy for the Recount: Get to the WI Supreme Court
Larisa Calvanes, an observer with the Trump campaign, watches the Milwaukee County recount through a pane of clear plexiglass the Trump campaign agreed to but now claims is obstructing observers’ view. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

“You need to conduct yourselves like ladies and gentlemen,” Baas yelled. “We will not be these other states.”

By successfully getting these documents set aside, the Trump campaign has set itself up to challenge them in bulk and eventually take them to court if the challenges don’t go the president’s way. 

It was not until 2:42 p.m. that the recount was allowed to resume. 

According to a schedule provided by Milwaukee County, the recount is expected to be completed by Nov. 29.




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