Since Friday’s start of the recount, Trump’s legal team has filed a litany of objections, laying the groundwork to challenge potentially hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of ballots in court.
As the recount of the presidential election in Milwaukee and Dane counties continues this week, one thing is clear: President Donald Trump’s campaign sees the recount as a means to an end, not as a final judgment on Trump’s margin of loss in Wisconsin.
Conventionally, election recounts are used to weed out isolated errors that may alter the margins of an election ever so slightly, but the Trump campaign team has taken unprecedented steps to subvert a process that typically changes very little about an election’s results.
“The campaign is doing a disservice to elections in Wisconsin,” Mark Thomsen, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in a Monday phone interview.
Trump’s campaign has made bizarre and downright nonsensical objections to thousands of ballots with election officials in Wisconsin’s two largest, most Democratic counties in a blatant effort to toss enough votes to reverse Trump’s 20,500-vote loss. And if that long shot doesn’t land, the outgoing president’s attorneys are poised to take the issue all the way to the state Supreme Court.
As soon as the recount formally began on Friday, Trump’s representatives in Milwaukee and Madison filed a litany of objections, laying the groundwork to challenge potentially hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of ballots in court.
“It’s an attempt to try and litigate themselves into a second term,” said Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. “That’s just not how it works. We’re not in the business of being able to throw out ballots just because they didn’t vote for you, or they didn’t go your way.”
Trump representatives wanted election officials to set aside—thereby teeing up for a court challenge—large swaths of absentee ballots and absentee ballot envelopes, such as envelopes with multiple colors of ink on them and absentee ballots that did not have a separate written request.
Absentee ballot envelopes count as applications, and voters can also request absentee ballots online at myvote.wi.gov; both methods are separate from a traditional written request, but are perfectly legal and likely account for a vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of the roughly 2.6 million absentee ballots cast throughout the state.
Under the argument against ballots without written requests, the Trump campaign’s own attorney is advocating for his own vote to be invalidated because they voted in-person absentee, not through a written request.
Trump’s team on Saturday also categorically objected to any ballots in Milwaukee County that were folded. All absentee ballots are folded and put into envelopes, meaning the Trump campaign effectively objected to each of Milwaukee County’s 434,589 absentee ballots on the grounds they were folded.
“That’s just a farce,” said Thomsen, a Milwaukee resident who voted absentee. “That’s not a recount.”
The Milwaukee County Board of Canvassers overruled the campaign’s objection to folded ballots, but there would be nothing stopping the campaign from bringing up such an objection again in a courtroom.
Scot Ross, a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said he fears the Trump campaign might bring to court a laundry list of issues in hopes conservative judges will “seem reasonable” by rejecting the most egregiously illegitimate challenges—like the folded ballots—but accepting one or two categories of ballots that will throw out enough votes to flip the state.
Sam Munger, a nonpartisan election policy analyst who formerly worked in Gov. Tony Evers’ office, said Ross’ scenario is likely what the Trump campaign is banking on. Munger said it is unlikely, but he conceded it would theoretically be possible.
“The current state of the state being what it is, could you completely rule out those long shot scenarios? I don’t think so,” Munger said.
Still, Munger said, “no self-respecting judge should allow these insane claims into a court of law.” He said that has been proven true in other states where Trump lost and sued. Practically across the board, the lawsuits have either been tossed by judges or withdrawn by the campaign.
The fact, though, that many Republicans in Wisconsin—such as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)—have been either silent or complicit with Trump’s ongoing assault on the election should be of concern to every Wisconsinite, Ross said. He said all Democratic elected officials need to speak out.
“They should be raising alarm bells in every corner of the state about this attack on our democracy,” Ross said.