MILWAUKEE (AP) Ardis Cerny, a recount watcher from Wisconsin, craned her neck as far as she could towards a plexiglass divider separating her from two ballot counters, eagle-eyed as they scanned the ballots one by one.
When a tabulator told the staunch supporter of President Donald Trump that she was too leaning over a yellow line on the floor of a Milwaukee conference hall meant to keep observers 3 feet away, Cerny bristled.
I know you don’t want us to see the ballots, she said. You think you might find something.
Cerny is part of a large contingent of pro-Trump observers participating in a recount that the president requested and paid for $ 3 million in the two largest and most liberal counties in the states, Milwaukee and Dane, in an attempt in the long run to wipe out Democrat Joe Bidens more than 20,000 votes ahead after the initial tally.
With no precedent to erase such a margin, it is widely expected that Trumps’ eventual plan in Wisconsin will be litigation over thousands of mail-in ballots he says were misspelled.
But that doesn’t mean his recount watchers aren’t trying.
The atmosphere inside the convention hall where the Milwaukee Countys’ tale takes place has at times become acrimonious and chaotic. Lawyers for the Trump and Biden camps are constantly walking the floor surveying the hundreds of tables in an area the size of several football fields.
We were continuing here, Milwaukee County Chief Electoral Officer Julietta Henry told a three-member commission overseeing the recount on Saturday, referring to the wave of challenges from Trump officials. She said they sometimes resulted in confusing instructions to tabulators.
Commissioners have sometimes approached to recompose the tables themselves to investigate alleged rule violations. When too many people gathered around a table on Friday, violating social distancing rules, Republican commission member Rick Baas suddenly shouted, I got it! Clear this floor now!
On another occasion, he berated some observers for their disruptive nature and called on them to behave with courtesy: we will not be like other states.
At least some ignored this call.
A Trump observer was escorted from the building by deputy sheriffs on Saturday after pushing an election official who lifted his coat from an observer chair. Another was pulled on Friday for not wearing a face mask properly, as coronavirus infection rates soared in the state.
You need to step back and sit down, one election official, surrounded by lawmakers, told another Trump watcher. If you don’t, you will be escorted. After arguing for a while, the observer sat down.
County election commissioners, two Democrats and one Republican, were in near-perpetual session to tackle a flood of challenges from Trump that County Secretary George Christenson said were slowing the recount and delaying the process. On Saturday, election officials accused Trump’s representatives of flouting the rules to obstruct and delay the recount, noting that some of their observers objected to every poll at a particular table. Challenges were thrown on the mail-in ballots that were folded, a step necessary for voters to put them in envelopes.
Another Trump challenge was to disqualify mail-in ballots submitted in envelopes with official stickers that had come off.
Some of the things we’re getting ourselves into are ridiculous, the increasingly exasperated Tim Posnanski said on Saturday.
When a Trump representative appeared dismissive of the advice Milwaukee Countys attorney Margaret Daun offered to commissioners, she warned him: Please don’t talk to me, sir.
While the recount itself will almost certainly not change the outcome, the Trumps campaign seems intent on taking on as many challenges as possible so that they can eventually get a judge to cast entire categories of ballots. Trump lost to Biden in Milwaukee County, the most populous county in the state with a large black population, over 2 to 1. At the center of the conflict are tens of thousands of mail-order votes.
By law, the recount must be completed by December 1. But on Saturday night, few of Milwaukee’s hundreds of tabulators had managed to count the votes, the county clerk said. Theyd has spent most of the two days since the process began on Friday sorting the ballots, including postal envelopes and applications.
Joe Voiland, speaking to committee members on Saturday on behalf of the Trump campaign, denied his side was acting in bad faith.
I want to get to the point of putting everything together and not yelling at each other, Voiland said.
Election officials urged reporters not to speak to tabulators or observers while they were working. But Cerny has been cited to commissioners by name as an example of supporters posing as independents to circumvent rules limiting observers to one per table in each campaign. She got up, gave her name and asked to speak to the commissioners, but was told she couldn’t.
She wore a badge on her blouse that identified her as an independent observer, but when a reporter asked her if she was there to support Trump, she didn’t hesitate. Yes, she said. She declined to comment further.
A Biden watcher sitting next to Cerny earlier told him to lean back from the yellow line meant to separate observers from tabulators, then softened his tone.
We want every vote to count, she told Cerny, as do you.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm
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