Election officials in four western Wisconsin counties began sifting through more than 89,000 state Senate ballots Monday in what will be the first of two recounts.
Republican Dan Kapanke last week requested a recount in his bid to unseat Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, alleging mistakes were made in the more than 130 voting wards that make up the 32nd Senate District.
Shilling, the Senate minority leader, won by just 56 votes.
Meanwhile the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday ordered counties to begin recounting presidential votes on Thursday, providing either of the two third-party candidates who requested a recount submit the $3.5 million fee on Tuesday.
Republican Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton by just 22,177 votes to win Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who received 31,006 votes, requested a recount and as of Sunday said she had raised more than $6 million to pursue additional recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two other states where Trump won by a narrow margin.
Stein cited concerns that voting machines used in Wisconsin are vulnerable to hackers.
“After a divisive and painful presidential race, reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts are causing many American to wonder if our election results are reliable,” Stein said. “These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust.”
Of Wisconsin’s 1,853 municipalities, 813 count most of their ballots by hand. The remaining 56 percent use some combination of seven tabulating machines from three different vendors, according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Voting machines are programmed at the county level, either by county clerks or by the machine vendor.
Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas has called Wisconsin’s “the most decentralized election system” in the nation, and that tampering with the machines would require “unfettered access” to offices throughout the state.
Rocky Roque de la Fuente, an independent candidate who got just 1,514 votes, also petitioned Wisconsin for a recount, though it was unclear whether he planned to pay for it.
Clerks in Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties have estimated it will take between two and six days to complete the Senate recount.
About 70 percent of the votes were cast in La Crosse County, and more than a third were absentee ballots, which take more time to process as poll workers must check the names on the envelopes against voter rolls.
Dozens of poll workers began that process Monday morning.
Because of how close that race was, Kapanke is not required to pay for the recount. Those costs will have to be absorbed by each county.
It’s not clear what will happen if the Senate recount is not completed before the presidential recount is supposed to begin.
Haas said some of the work for that recount, such as reviewing poll books and absentee ballot envelopes, will not need to be repeated when those counties conduct their presidential recount.
La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said if that is the case, the presidential recount may only take a couple of days.
Haas said he expects most counties will complete the presidential recount in about a week, though some large urban counties may take longer. Counties have a deadline of Dec. 12.
Each of the state’s 72 county clerks can decide whether to recount ballots by hand or using tabulating machines, although Stein has asked a Dane County judge to order a hand recount.
Dankmeyer said La Crosse County will hand count ballots because it is faster.
Mark Thomsen, chairman of the bipartisan Elections Commission, said Monday he does not expect the recount will change the outcome of the election, and he criticized president-elect Donald Trump for claiming, without evidence, that “millions of people” voted illegally.
“What the president says about our system is very important,” Thomsen said. “Someone has the bully pulpit and somebody has impact on our citizens’ right to trust what happens down the block at their polling stations. I’ve never seen this kind of attack on poll workers and how this system works.”