Nov 19, 2020
Wisconsin Elections Commission Press Conference Transcript November 19: Recount Order
The Wisconsin Elections Commission held a press conference on November 19 to address the recount ordered for two liberal counties. Donald Trump requested the recount. Read the transcript of the news briefing with election updates here.
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Speaker 1: (00:15)
Well, why don’t we get started, Megan.
Meagan Wolfe: (00:16)
Great. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thanks so much for being here. I think many of you probably had long nights as well. I’m Meagan Wolfe, I’m the administrator of the State of Wisconsin Elections Commission and the chief election official for the state of Wisconsin, Wisconsin’s non-partisan chief election official. So as we do every week and during any major actions of our commission or major happenings in Wisconsin elections, I wanted to provide you all with an update on the certification and the recount process here in the State of Wisconsin.
Meagan Wolfe: (00:58)
On Tuesday, the last county canvas is filed. So as we’ve been discussing, the county canvas in the municipal canvas process is where unofficial results become official, right? So each of our local jurisdictions, so each of our cities, towns, and villages, after an election, has to canvas by reviewing their unofficial election results and then certify them at the municipal level. They then go to the County level where they also do their review and their certification. If they find a problem, they send it back to the municipality.
Meagan Wolfe: (01:33)
And on Tuesday, which was the deadline for everyone to complete their municipal and county canvases, we received our final County certification. And what this meant is that that then started the time clock for when a recount could be filed with the State of Wisconsin, if there was an aggrieved candidate within the margin, which there indeed was.
Meagan Wolfe: (01:54)
So on Tuesday evening, we received $3 million from the Trump Campaign, and then on Wednesday morning, we received a petition for recount. And that petition specifically designated Dane in Milwaukee County. So again, all of these steps, all of these procedures, are requiring the payments prior to the start of recount, and allowing that a candidate can choose either a state-wide recount or specific jurisdictions laid out in Wisconsin State Statute. So those are statutes that were created that governed the process for the recount.
Meagan Wolfe: (02:35)
Last night, the commission held a meeting, and this meeting was noticed in accordance with the state’s open meeting laws. So more than 24 hours advanced notice was provided, and it was noticed to discuss the recount timeline and the procedures. And also to talk about the post-election voting equipment audits. And as part of that meeting, staff was asked to prepare documentation for the commission’s review. And at that meeting, we were asked to prepare that documentation for the commission to review, to answer questions that we received from both clerks and commissioners as we prepared for the recount.
Meagan Wolfe: (03:15)
So over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been meeting with our local election officials to make sure that we were all prepared IN fielding those questions in the event that there was a state-wide recount or a localized recount, that we would be ready and we would know what questions and what type of guidance to bring to the commission for consideration. So we did that at last night’s commission meeting. And like everything that’s done in elections, the commission meetings are also done as part of a publicly-noticed open meeting.
Meagan Wolfe: (03:46)
And so when we were asked to prepare guidance to present to the commission, we did not at that time have an order. We did not know what was going to be in the order. We did not know if we were preparing for state-wide or a partial recount, all we knew is that we had questions from both clerks, from both commissioners. And we wanted to make sure that we provided information and recommendations for the commissioners to consider in that public meeting so that we were all prepared in the event that there was a recount.
Meagan Wolfe: (04:16)
So what resulted from last night’s meeting? Three things happened at last night’s meeting. First is there was an order for a recount that was approved and then issued this morning. Second, guidance regarding the recount was updated, but only to address questions about public health and observers, which I’ll go into in more detail. And then the commission also discussed next steps for the post-election voting equipment audit, and established what those next steps would be.
Meagan Wolfe: (04:49)
So in regard to clarification to the recount manual. So last night, the commission approved three changes to the text of the recount manual. The first is changes to the dates in corresponding things like the index. The second was the addition of three clauses that clarify the interception of public health guidance and observers, or how observers will interact with a recount setting. The third was the addition of a recount specific public health memo, that again discusses public health considerations, especially in a prolonged setting.
Meagan Wolfe: (05:33)
So recount is very different than election day. Election day is one day. A recount is 13 days where people are in the same space. And so, while we’ve certainly rethought all of our guidance for elections, be it in-person, absentee, the processing of ballots, election day at the polls, all of those things have been reconceptualized with health guidance front and center. A recount is a different scenario. Again, they’re there for 13 days.
Meagan Wolfe: (06:03)
So it’s a prolonged setting. And there are also requirements that representatives of the candidates have to be able to see the materials clearly, because they’re actually a very important part of the recount process. Those representatives are able to offer objections, bring forth information as the board of canvassers are making their decisions. And so there were a lot of new pieces to a recount that we had to consider as part of public health guidance. And that was provided as an additional supplemental memo to that manual as well.
Meagan Wolfe: (06:40)
The updated manual is posted to our website. The changes have been highlighted, so you can see exactly what was changed. And we also left up the previous manual for verification purposes. So other than the changes that the commission approved, anything that was not approved by the commission went unchanged. So again, you can see that manual, you can see it highlighted where those changes were made, and you can also see the previous version if you care to verify that as well.
Meagan Wolfe: (07:13)
The next thing that the commission did was to approve the order of the recount. And really what that order is, is it designates the start and the end time. It also starts the actual recount. Because if we would have issued it last night and actually the commission meeting went into this morning, this morning, the commission did send out the order of the recount. It was sent to Dane and Milwaukee County. It was also sent to the Trump and Biden representatives, all of the other presidential candidates, in the registered writings this morning so that they have notice of that recount.
Meagan Wolfe: (07:49)
Now that the order has been issued, the recount can begin. And the 13-day clock starts today. So today’s the first day of 13 in which the recount has to be completed. The counties, who are the ones that are responsible for running a recount, they have until 9:00 AM on Saturday to convene. And the recount must be completed by December 1st.
Meagan Wolfe: (08:18)
The next thing is the commission also moved on the very important issue of post-election voting equipment audits. These audits are required after every general election. State statute says that at least 3% of all the voting equipment in use in the state has to be audited after a general election. The commission has adopted a practice to increase that number to 5% of the voting equipment in use across the state that has to be audited after a general election.
Meagan Wolfe: (08:49)
And how does that work? Municipalities are randomly selected after a general election, because we don’t want to give a roadmap to where those audits are going to be. They’re randomly selected after an election to have those jurisdictions do essentially a hand count of the paper ballots to verify that the paper ballots match the electronic trail. And this happens after every general election, and again, as required by law, that the commission has increased the number of audits that are required.
Meagan Wolfe: (09:23)
And so while there was a pending recount, right? So if you have a race that’s within the recount margin, the clerks cannot open the balloting materials until that recount deadline has passed. And so those voting equipment audits have to be put on hold until we know if we’ll have a recount. And so now that we know we’ll have a recount, the commission was able to consider what’s next for those audits, and how do we ensure that this important part of the process, this important part of instilling public confidence in showing that everything went according to plan, how is that going to proceed? So two things that came from that, first is that the jurisdictions that were selected in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, are those that are going to be incorporated as part of the recount. So as part of the recount, they will be doing their voting equipment audits. Because again, you are doing a hand count of the paper ballots and ensuring that it matches the total on the voting equipment.
Meagan Wolfe: (10:27)
For the other 190 municipalities, they can now resume their voting equipment audit because they’re not in a recount. And voting equipment audits are always a publicly observable open meeting. And as part of how the voting equipment is actually selected to be a part of the audit, the commission has also adopted guidance earlier this year about how that random selection takes place, so that we get a broad sampling of not only every county in the state, but also every type of voting equipment that is in use. For example, the Dominion systems and use in the state of Wisconsin. It’s not the major vendor in our states, but at least 15% of those voting machines were selected as part of that audit and will be audited again, where you’re going to take that paper ballot and verifies that it matches the machine total.
Meagan Wolfe: (11:25)
Now, I will also say that we always do these audits, right? They’re required by law, and there have never been any problems detected. There have never been any issues detected between the paper ballot total and the machine total. But if that were the case, as they embark on these audits, again, publicly observable, publicly noticed meetings, if there were some kind of issue with that audit, the commission also asked, and it would be immediately brought to their attention and to the attention of the public as we go through that.
Meagan Wolfe: (11:56)
But regardless, even if the findings are, as they usually are, that everything works out in terms of the paper ballots matching that electronic trail, the findings of that audit are always brought to the commission at one of their public meetings to be discussed. So that’s another important step that will be happening now that we have a partial recount. The commission also assigned a filing deadline for those audits of November 27th.
Meagan Wolfe: (12:27)
So that is a status update of the process and where we’re at. I know that the eyes of the world will be on these two Wisconsin counties for the next few weeks. And we really do remain committed to providing the facts about the process and updates throughout. And while the counties, in a lot of ways, will be best suited to discuss their procedures and their setup and their board of canvassers are the ones that are charged with making the decisions at the recount, at the State of Wisconsin Elections Commission…
Meagan Wolfe: (13:03)
… at the recount, at the State of Wisconsin elections commission and as the staff, we can help them as they organize and help to support the process as well. And I think I speak for our election administrators when I say that we look forward to again, demonstrating the strengths, security, integrity and transparency of our election systems in Wisconsin. We did so through the municipal board of canvas, where we saw very little, if any, changes. We did so through the County board of canvas, where we didn’t see any significant changes. And we’ll do so again with the recount and then we’ll do so again with the post-election voting equipment audit. And so to that end, I look forward to your continued engagement. And I look forward to providing that information and status updates throughout the recount process, which again is set to end no later than December 1st. So with that, I’ll turn it over to all of you for any questions that you might have.
Reid Magney: (14:05)
Thanks very much, Meagan. First is Nick Bohr, followed by Matt Smith.
Nick Bohr : (14:12)
Hi, Meagan. Thank you. I just had a question. I just watched this news conference that Rudy Giuliani had. And he claimed that between Milwaukee and Dane counties, there were 100,000 absentee ballots cast without an application, he said. In the recount process, is there a check to see if an absentee ballot was properly applied for?
Meagan Wolfe: (14:36)
Yeah. Thank you for that question. So throughout not only the recount, but throughout the canvas, there are steps required for what we call reconciliation. And that means you’re looking at the artifacts of the elections and making sure that everything lines up. So in order for a voter to be in the poll book, they have to be registered to vote, first of all, and then they have to have requested an absentee ballot. And so all of that information is contained in not only the poll book, but in our absentee ballot logs. And all of that information has to match up, right? You have to have the same number of registrations. You have to have the same number of applications, in order to reconcile the number of ballots that were issued. And if there’s any issue found during that process… So if there’s any issue found during the canvassing process or during the recount process where that doesn’t reconcile, then they have to dig deeper into that.
Meagan Wolfe: (15:37)
And that of course would be an issue that we all have to examine, but we did not see that in the boards of canvas. So the boards of canvas do have to look at some of those materials and make sure that everything reconciles and those are posted on our website. So you can actually see the certified canvas statements and see that those reviews have been completed at not only the county level, but at the municipal level and they did detect any issues. And so they’ll do the same during the recount process. And those board of canvassers will have to reconcile all the artifacts of the election, all the numbers of the election. And if they detect any problems, that’s why we do canvas, that’s why we do a recount, is if there’s problems we want to detect them, then of course, that would be brought to the attention of the public because there are observers and representatives involved in all of those processes.
Reid Magney: (16:28)
All right, Matt.
Matt Smith: (16:31)
Hi, Meagan. Hey, you addressed last night, several things last night, but you talked a little bit about if an outbreak were to happen at one of the counting recount locations. Curious if you can just expand on those conversations with the two counties, what would happen and what role would the commission play if there were a coronavirus outbreak?
Meagan Wolfe: (16:53)
Well, thank you very much for that question. And the commission doesn’t play a role in appointing the board of canvassers. So the board of canvassers is who makes the decision for a recount, right? And so they’re the ones that need to make sure that they’re planning for any possible vacancy, having things like potentially an alternate space, in the event that there is no outbreak, making sure that they have a backup pool of tabulators and of other recount staff. So just like our elections, where we talk to our local election officials and made sure that they had backup plans and contingency plans and knew within their governance structure what they would do in the event of an emergency, the same applies here. That the board of canvassers has to make those determinations, when they’re navigating any potential issues during the recount.
Reid Magney: (17:50)
All right. Next is Shawn Johnson, followed by Joseph States. You got to unmute yourself, Shawn.
Shawn Johnson: (18:02)
Hi, Meagan, can you hear me okay?
Meagan Wolfe: (18:04)
Shawn Johnson: (18:05)
Yeah. I just had a question about certification once the recount is done. You’d said during, I think it was the last media availability, that the job of certification falls strictly to the commission chair and not to the commission as a whole. Commissioner Knudson was, I guess, raising the idea during last night’s meeting that the commission as a whole still needs to convene to, I think the word he used was approved transmission of the certification. Can you explain that process and does the commission need to reconvene at that point or once the chair certifies is the process done?
Meagan Wolfe: (18:52)
Yeah. Thank you for that question. So looking back at elections and how they’ve been certified throughout the years, so over the last 11 plus statewide elections, including the 2016 presidential election, that has been a statutory power of the chair of the commission, whoever it is at that time. So if you look back at who is certified any given election over the last four years, it has always been the chair of that commission or their designee. And so that’s my understanding of the process, but I of course will work with the commission. And if they ask us to convene to provide any information at any juncture throughout the recount or throughout the certification, we would most certainly do that. So we’ll keep everyone appraised about the status of certification and if asked to convene or provide information, we’ll be glad to do so.
Reid Magney: (19:51)
And the other thing to remember… This is Reid Magney at the commission. The other thing is that the commission has a meeting scheduled for December 1, which is the certification date as well. So the commission will be meeting and we’ll be discussing all of these things. Joseph?
Joseph States: (20:10)
My question has to do with sort of also issues of coronavirus. There was revisions to the manual saying, “The ballots on materials must be available for candidates on the representative to view an offer any objections.” So how is that going to look practically in these recount locations, while also sort of balancing public safety and public health?
Meagan Wolfe: (20:31)
Yeah, thanks for that question. So the counties would be best suited to answer that question. And again, the board of canvassers are charged with that responsibility, to make sure that those representatives are able to see the materials. I think that now we’re dealing with two counties, certainly coordination on those issues will be easier between the campaigns and those counties. And so I know that those counties have already begun talking with the parties to make sure that they understand the process for designating a representative and for making sure that people will have opportunities to be able to meaningfully engage with the process and to be able to meaningfully engage with offering those objections and challenges and information, as is required as part of the recount process. So I can’t say exactly what it’s going to look like, those County clerks and board of canvassers would be able to provide you the specifics. I know that they have floor plans and all sorts of layouts, in terms of how that process will look. But that’s not something that falls under the state umbrella, but I’m sure they’d be glad to talk about their preparations.
Reid Magney: (21:40)
All right. Next is Pat Poblete, followed by Fox 11.
Pat Poblete: (21:44)
Hi Meagan, thanks again for doing these. So I wanted to ask about two items from the recount manual that led discussion and ultimately deadlock last night. Now that was the footnote that would have removed the address as an issue. And also the… Sorry, I have it here.
Meagan Wolfe: (22:13)
The review of absentee applications.
Pat Poblete: (22:14)
Yes, yes, yes. Sorry. Can you tell me kind of who requested those changes and when you first drafted them?
Meagan Wolfe: (22:23)
Sure. So again, we’ve been meeting with our county clerks for the last few weeks. So we’ve been having regular meetings with them to discuss preparations for a recount. And as part of that, we’ve been keeping track of the questions that they’ve been asking us. And those were two of the most common ones, is could we offer any clarification on what was statutorily required? And also, I’ve received questions from both commissioners and from clerks about clarification’s about the intersection of public health guidance and observers or just setting up a recount.
Meagan Wolfe: (22:56)
And so overall, the charge from commissioners was that we were supposed to collect information, in terms of questions about the recount, so that we could all be prepared, so that we could present any questions or changes to the commission, so that they could publicly consider them and make any changes. So I can’t speak to beyond that, sort of their thoughts about those items. But really, that was how it’s designed to be discussed, is that we’re asked to provide recommendations, in terms of how to handle questions that are being presented to us. And then our six member bipartisan commission takes a look at those recommendations and decides what they like and what they don’t like. And that’s what happened last night.
Pat Poblete: (23:46)
And can you tell me when they were drafted?
Meagan Wolfe: (23:50)
They were drafted… I have no concept of days of the week right now. But they were drafted on… So if yesterday was Wednesday, they were drafted on Tuesday.
Pat Poblete: (24:01)
Was that before or after you received the transfer from the Trump campaign?
Meagan Wolfe: (24:06)
Pat Poblete: (24:08)
And then one last one, if I may. Do you have statistics on the number of voters in Milwaukee and Dane counties that use the indefinitely confined registration and also the number of ballots that were cured in those two counties?
Meagan Wolfe: (24:24)
I do not. That would be questions for those counties or for potentially the Badger Voter data request system.
Pat Poblete: (24:31)
Thank you so much.,
Reid Magney: (24:33)
Meagan, we can provide the indefinitely confined numbers by county. We do have that information that we can provide. But yeah, on the cured number of ballots, that’s data that we don’t have. Fox 11?
Fox 11 News: (24:54)
Hi, Meagan, thank you for doing this. One of the complaints by the campaign was that their observers weren’t able to actually observe or be close enough to see what was going on and to verify that ballots were counted correctly. So what is going to be done this time around, to make sure that same complaint doesn’t present itself again?
Meagan Wolfe: (25:15)
Sure. So again, it’s the charge of each of the board of canvassers to make those arrangements and to ensure that their statutory responsibilities are met. But last night, the commission did lend some clarification to that process, in terms of some of the changes they made to the manual, that very clearly States that representatives of the parties need to be able to meaningfully engage with the process. So their role really is to represent the candidates and to provide objections and information, to see how ballots are being tallied, right? That’s part of it too. There’s even secondary representatives who can see how each ballot is being tabulated and can raise any objections or ask for those to be set aside for the board of canvassers or the primary observers to…
Meagan Wolfe: (26:03)
… set aside for the Board of Canvassers or the primary observers to sort out. And so, the Commission clarified that that intersection, again, between public health and the need for people to be able to meaningfully engage with the process. And then it’s up to each of those Board of Canvassers to implement the law and to implement the guidance and to make sure that their statutory responsibilities are met.
Reid Magney: (26:30)
Next is Adam Brewster, followed by Tony Galli.
Adam Brewster: (26:35)
Hi Megan, a couple of quick questions. One, the primary and secondary challengers. Those can be representatives from the candidates, like the political parties themselves, or is it just representatives from the candidates?
Meagan Wolfe: (26:50)
No, sometimes those things are interchangeable, but representatives of the candidates, so the candidate who is the one who filed the recount, and so the candidate gets to decide who their representatives are.
Adam Brewster: (27:04)
Got it. And then on the issue of, if an absentee ballot certificate envelope was found to have been improperly counted, can you walk through how that ballot is then not counted during the recount? The Milwaukee County outlined yesterday one system for central count communities and one system for non-central count communities, which this non-central count seem to be that they pick a ballot at random to reject, if the certificate envelope was found to not have been legally cast. Can you walk through how that process works?
Meagan Wolfe: (27:46)
Yeah, I think that was a pretty good summary. So all of this, again, is laid out in Chapter 9 of the Statutes, in terms of how a recount is constructed.
Meagan Wolfe: (27:56)
The first step of a recount, again, is to, just like we did in canvas, to reconcile everything, to make sure that we’ve got the right number of applications and registrations and to review those envelopes. So as part of that process, if they find a ballot that has been counted that shouldn’t have been, there’s a process for how do you reconcile that? Because you can only have the same number of ballots issued as ballots counted.
Meagan Wolfe: (28:24)
As part of that process, there’s something called a drawdown, which basically means that you have a pool of ballots that you choose from randomly to reconcile the number. In most jurisdictions, in a jurisdiction where your ballot is counted at the polling place, once your ballot goes into the machine, it’s completely anonymized. There’s no way to know which envelope corresponds with which ballot.
Meagan Wolfe: (28:54)
But in central count jurisdictions, the law actually says that they have to tie the envelope to the person’s ballot. In the event that it was an absentee ballot cast in a central count jurisdiction, then they are able to take that envelope and to actually reconcile by pulling that voter’s specific ballot.
Adam Brewster: (29:22)
Otherwise, if it’s from the non-central counts, like Madison, it’s just a random ballot that gets picked out of… Is it a pile from the same ward?
Meagan Wolfe: (29:30)
Yes, it’s from the same ward, and pile is probably not a good word, but you sort them by different categories, right? So if there’s other potential… There’s a process for drawdown in terms of where do you look first, in terms of ballots that you would draw from. But yes, ultimately it’s random. You’re never going to have… In a drawdown situation, the envelope that’s problematic, if it’s not central count, you’re never going to be able to pair that with the exact voter’s ballot, so it’s more or less a random drawdown.
Adam Brewster: (30:03)
What does that do for down-ballot races?
Meagan Wolfe: (30:06)
Well, a recount is only looking at recounting the total for a President. So a recount, you’re not re-certifying the lower ballot contests, so it doesn’t change that.
Adam Brewster: (30:18)
Reid Magney: (30:20)
Tony Galli’s next.
Tony Galli: (30:26)
Hi Megan, Tony Galli with WKOW TV Madison. Megan, the public health guidance, as contained in the staff’s memo, speaks to access being provided to observers of ballot materials, and also makes what I’ll call recommendations in terms of preserving health with objects such as plexiglass shields and clear tabletop barriers. How do the three clauses change the essence of that, if they do?
Meagan Wolfe: (31:03)
Thank you. I think, really what it does is it just clarifies that again, the Board of Canvassers are making the decisions at a polling place. And that actually includes not just what ballot should be counted, if something is sufficient or is not. It also includes the conduct of the recount itself.
Meagan Wolfe: (31:22)
And so, just tying in, that that Board of Canvas also has discretion to be able to enforce provisions of public health to make sure that everybody stays safe as part of the recount. So I really think that’s what those changes were designed to do, is to tie together those two concepts and the discretion of the Board of Canvassers, and to make it clear that they also have the ability to set the standards for that practice as well.
Reid Magney: (31:52)
All right. Next is Ben Jordan, followed by Riley Vetterkind.
Ben Jordan: (32:00)
Hey Megan, thanks for taking my question. So the Trump campaign is alleging that all absentee ballots that were issued without a written application need to be thrown out. Can you explain the state law on this? Does that mean that they’re alleging that all of the people who went to My Vote to request their ballot online, or perhaps went to the polls for in-person early absentee? I’m trying to understand the state law here.
Meagan Wolfe: (32:29)
Sure. I don’t think that at this point, I won’t discuss the merits of any of their allegations in the recount petition. I think, again, that the Board of Canvassers are going to have to decide what the provisions are of the law, look at the guidance in the manual and make sure that they have an application for everything.
Meagan Wolfe: (32:52)
Now, I will say that, for online voter registration, for electronic absentee ballot applications, that the law says that the electronic record is the record for that. And so, there’s not going to be a paper record for everything. For most things we do in life, transactions at the bank, there’s not a paper record for that, but there is an electronic record of that. And so, that’s certainly the case that you’d have every detail of that voters request.
Meagan Wolfe: (33:25)
But in terms of how voters interact with the system and how we interact with the world, many of those records are electronic. They certainly contain words; they’re written, but they are electronic versions of that request because that’s how the voter chose to make the request.
Reid Magney: (33:49)
All right. Riley?
Riley Vetterkind: (33:52)
Hi, Megan, thanks again for doing this call. I just was wondering if you could go over the role of the recount itself versus the issues that typically the courts would deal with. As a lot of people have already mentioned, it looks like this might be headed for litigation, but I’m just wondering if you could go over what the role of the recount is, as well as whether this recount is unique, in that there are a specific allegations being brought up, some of which appear to be more questions of law.
Meagan Wolfe: (34:31)
Yeah, thank you. So, if you look at the 2016 recount petition, there are a lot of similarities in terms of what they were looking to accomplish, in terms of looking at the process, to make sure that there were no changes because of voting systems or other procedures throughout the process.
Meagan Wolfe: (34:50)
And so I think from that respect, no, it’s not unusual. That’s what a recount is there for. Again, we’ve already done this as part of the canvases, but again, having an opportunity to make sure that all the materials, all the artifacts of the election, reconcile that you have the correct number of registered voters as you have applications, as you have ballots issued. You have to reconcile all of that.
Meagan Wolfe: (35:16)
I think the different piece when it comes to a recount, that’s different from a canvas, is counting the ballots again. During a recount, you count all the ballots again. So once you do those checks of the process to make sure everybody’s registered, to make sure everybody has an application on file, to make sure everybody’s signed the poll book, all of those things have to happen, and then you count the ballots again.
Meagan Wolfe: (35:39)
That’s where it’s very different than Canvas, where you’re reconciling all the numbers but you’re not recounting the ballots. The ballots stay sealed from Election Day. So on Election Day, they have to seal all the ballots into ballot bags with tamper evident seals, and they’re only opening those upon a recount. That’s actually one of the steps in a recount, is you have to go through and verify that none of the seals are broken, that all the numbers are the same on the log. You have to look at the incident log and recognize any problems that might’ve come up on Election Day that you need to look back on.
Meagan Wolfe: (36:13)
And so, the difference between canvas and a recount is really counting the ballots again. That’s really the objective of a recount, is to count the ballots again, make sure you’ve got the count right and everything reconciles.
Meagan Wolfe: (36:26)
The Board of Canvassers, again, gets to make the decisions throughout the process. They can be presented with information from the representatives of the parties, in terms of if an absentee ballot envelope was sufficient, if a ballot was remade and there’s questions about the voter’s intent, they can bring up questions like that and the Board of Canvassers gets to decide.
Meagan Wolfe: (36:52)
And if, upon that information that was presented, or the decision of the Board of Canvassers, the decision of the Board of Canvassers could then be challenged in the courts. So that’s kind of how that procedure works.
Riley Vetterkind: (37:07)
Great, thank you. And then just finally I was wondering, and I’m not sure if you’re able to, but if you could say, specifically, which Commissioners have requested clarification, in the recount manual, that led to that meeting last night?
Meagan Wolfe: (37:26)
I think certainly, and as we said last night, Commissioner Spindell had questions that we wanted to make sure that we addressed. But commissioners bring questions to my attention all the time, and also just this general idea, as the Commission made very clear last night, that they want to be the decision makers as part of this process, that that’s why this body exists, is they have this bipartisan body. They make the decisions on how something like a recount would proceed, and the guidance that we put out there.
Meagan Wolfe: (37:56)
And so, we had also been charged just generally by the Commission, to make sure that, as there’s questions that come up about how the process should proceed from our local election officials, that guidance on those questions should be brought before the Commission so that they can decide that as part of a publicly noticed meeting.
Riley Vetterkind: (38:16)
Great, thank you.
Reid Magney: (38:18)
All right. Next is Joshua, followed by Ellie Kaufman.
Hi, thank you so much for taking my question, I really appreciate it, for holding this meeting. But I just had a question. Commissioner Knutson said, I guess early this morning, when the WC meeting went into the early hours, that he just doesn’t want a random few voting machines in each county to be audited, he wants all of them. Is that possible? And he recognized that there’s no money for it and it’s not the law, but has that ever been done before, something like that? Is it possible?
Meagan Wolfe: (38:54)
So what is going to happen is the voting equipment audits are going to resume now, and they will… There’s almost three-
Meagan Wolfe: (39:03)
… now, and there’s almost 300 pieces of voting equipment that will be analyzed across the State. And if there were any kind of an issue that was brought up during part of those audits, then we would immediately flag it for the commission and for the public, and the commission would then be able to consider what are the next steps. And so I don’t want to speculate about what those next steps would look like, again, we’ve never had a problem that’s resulted from the voting equipment audits, but if there were that of course would be a huge deal and something that we would bring to the commission and the public’s attention immediately so that they could address next steps.
Meagan Wolfe: (39:40)
I don’t know what something like a full audit of the state would look like, but certainly if we find ourselves in a position where that is required, where there’s a problem, that’s something that we would take incredibly seriously and we would look to put together a proposal about how to make sure that we had addressed that issue and that we analyzed it. So we don’t expect that to be the issue, but if it were, we would work with the commission to develop an approach to make sure that everything had been analyzed.
Reid Magney: (40:11)
Joshua, just the other thing is that Commissioner Knudson did not call for a full statewide audit. What he said was, he was comfortable with the audit as proposed, if there were problems, he wanted something larger. So he wasn’t calling for everything to be audited, so please don’t mischaracterize what he said. Next is Ellie.
Ellie Kaufman: (40:35)
Hey Megan, thanks for doing this call. Really quickly, could you explain to me the difference between the representatives role at the recount and then observers role?
Meagan Wolfe: (40:46)
Sure, so a representative is a person that’s actually appointed by the candidates, so by the candidates to represent the candidates interest. And the representative gets to view the materials and also gets to offer challenges and objections and informations to the board of canvassers as they’re making their decisions. So if there’s a question, let’s say as the tabulators are tabulating the ballots and there’s a question about, let’s say voter intents on a ballot that has been remade, that would be set aside and then the representatives and the board of canvassers would review that and the board of canvassers would make the decision, but the representatives would be able to offer information and objections as part of that process. And so that’s why they have to be able to see things and work very closely with the board of canvassers as a part of that process.
Meagan Wolfe: (41:47)
Now, an observer is just somebody that’s generally there to observe the process. And they don’t get to work directly with the board of canvassers to offer objections, they can certainly raise their concerns or their objections to somebody like the primary representative for the candidate, and if they felt like that was information that needed to be brought before the board of canvassers they could. But in a lot of cases those folks are referred to as secondary representatives. If there’s somebody that’s working at, let’s say Milwaukee, they plan to have something like 150 tables, I think they said set up for reviewing ballots. And so if you had observers at all of those tables, those might be secondary representatives that are asking the tabulator to set ballots aside so that the primary representatives and the board of canvas are able to deal with those objections, challenges and the board of canvas are ultimately making decisions.
Reid Magney: (42:47)
All right, next is-
Ellie Kaufman: (42:50)
[crosstalk 00:42:48], thanks.
Reid Magney: (42:50)
Sorry, next is Scott Bauer followed by Maayan Silver.
Scott Bauer: (42:54)
Hey, thanks Megan for doing this. Just a question on the timing, Milwaukee County is saying today that they planned to be done on Tuesday and Wednesday at the latest. The question for you is have you heard from Dane County as to what their estimate is, and if both counties would get done early, would the commission chair certify the vote before that December 1st meeting of the commission?
Meagan Wolfe: (43:23)
I don’t know what either county’s timeline is. So I don’t know what Dane county’s timeline is in terms of completing that recount. But I do know that the commission also directed the post-election voting equipment audits, which we would again, present to the commission. So I’m not sure exactly what the timing of things will be, I’ll keep everybody apprised. But from my perspective, right now we’re focusing on the recount and supporting that and then making sure that the post election voting equipment audit goes as planned so that we can provide that information to the commission prior to certification.
Reid Magney: (43:57)
Maayan Silver: (44:04)
Hi Megan. So I just have a couple of quick follow-up questions about things you’ve said. A follow up on Sean Johnson’s question, he was asking about the commissioners potentially having a role in the certification. I’m wondering what would happen if they end up getting that power, and if the commission deadlocks on certification, what would happen then? That’s my first question. Then I was wondering, someone asked about the complaints from the Trump administration that their observers couldn’t get close during the election, they were 30 to 35 feet away. I was wondering if you could weigh in on whether that was true or not. And then with the… Well, should I just let you answer those?
Meagan Wolfe: (44:46)
Yeah, that [crosstalk 00:05:46], thank you. So first on certification, it’s my understanding that ultimately the authority to be able to certify an election, again, you can look back at any election that’s been certified by the Wisconsin elections commission, and that’s always been something that has been handled by the chair of the commission and that is allowed under statute. So I believe that that would be the plan of how that would proceed. In terms of complaints about observers, I think that’s a great question for our local election officials. They have to maintain logs at their polling places of disruptions or any sort of complaints that come about throughout the day. And so I guess in terms of what election day looked like in a various jurisdiction, that would be a great question for one of our local election officials in terms of how they were structured. And I think for the recount, that again, those board of canvassers, they have to set up the recount so that the representatives are able to meaningfully interact with that process. And so if there were challenges to that process, then I’m sure that that’s something that would be litigated.
Maayan Silver: (46:04)
And two more super quick follow up questions, am I allowed to ask these?
Reid Magney: (46:08)
Maayan Silver: (46:09)
Okay, with the hand count versus counting by a machine, Milwaukee was talking about that, do you have any information on that and whether that’s been decided?
Meagan Wolfe: (46:21)
I don’t have any information on that, but it is allowed. So the state law does give the board of canvassers again, the discretion to be able to make decisions about how they want to conduct their recount. So they have the option to either hand count or to do a recount using their voting equipment, that’s been reprogrammed for that purpose.
Maayan Silver: (46:46)
And finally, with Adam’s question about drawing down a ballot, would you be choosing the same candidate, obviously if you’re tossing a vote and you don’t have the envelope there, it would just have to be the same vote for the same candidate?
Meagan Wolfe: (47:02)
Well, you wouldn’t know that, right? So as you’re reviewing the envelopes, you would see some kind of defects, so a defect like the voter didn’t sign the envelope. And so that would mean that you’ve have to have one less ballot in the pool, and so you wouldn’t know how that voter voted. So no, that’s not how that would work. It really is a random process where they would select a ballot so that it’s randomly drawn down.
Maayan Silver: (47:29)
So it’s possible that somebody who voted for Biden could get their ballot tossed, even though it was a Trump voter who mistakenly didn’t certify their envelope properly?
Meagan Wolfe: (47:40)
Yes, that’s correct.
Reid Magney: (47:44)
All right. Next is Amanda Albright followed by Fox 11 News.
Amanda Albright: (47:50)
Hi there, thanks for doing this. So there was a lot of talk last night about the witness signatures that get added to the envelopes. And I know that your office has kind of emphasize that this practice is pretty common and has been for, I think, 11 state elections. But can you give us an example of where folks doing the recount might actually declare that one of those envelopes in ballots is actually defective?
Meagan Wolfe: (48:23)
I’m not sure I quite understood the question, but I can explain the process. So as we’ve put out in press releases in multiple documents, this was a decision of the commission in 2016, in terms of their interpretation of the law, that a witness always has to apply their own signature and the voter has to apply their own signature. But in terms of the address information that if the witness did not include their address information, but the clerk or the poll worker had that information readily available or reliably available, that they were able to add that.
Meagan Wolfe: (49:04)
So that’s been in existence since 2016. It was something that was advised by DOJ in 2016, under a different administration. It was something that was moved at the time by the Republican members of the commission and has been in place for every election since 2016, including the 2016 presidential election, and so that’s sort of the genesis of that.
Meagan Wolfe: (49:28)
And I think in terms of reviewing the absentee ballot envelopes, if there’s an absentee ballot envelope that does not have a witness address on it, so let’s say the witness didn’t include it, and the clerk and poll workers were not able to find that information to add it at the polls on election day before the ballot was counted. If it doesn’t have an address on it during the recount, then it can’t be counted. And so I guess that would be something that they’re reviewing and that they would be making sure that if it had been rejected at the polls that it was rejected appropriately. And if it had been counted that it was removed from the total appropriately.
Reid Magney: (50:19)
All right, and then Fox 11.
Speaker 2: (50:23)
Actually, you guys can go ahead and pass, Maayan, she asked my follow up question, thank you.
Reid Magney: (50:29)
Okay. That looks like it for now of the questions, unless Amanda, did you have one more?
Amanda Albright: (50:39)
Oh, no, sorry.
Reid Magney: (50:40)
Okay, that’s fine. Yeah, so I guess that’s all the questions. I’ll send out the link to the video for this as soon as I can get it. And else you want to add, Megan?
Meagan Wolfe: (50:55)
Just thank you as always, I really do appreciate all of your time and being here. And I look forward to having these conversations as we navigate our way through the recount process. And so we’ll make sure to keep you apprised of any updates throughout the recount and continue to give you information about how that works. And probably most importantly, to answer your questions as you’re reporting this information to the public. So thanks as always for your role in helping to get out factual information about how elections work in the state of Wisconsin.
Reid Magney: (51:28)
All right, thank you everybody.