MADISON, Wis. – The tedious task of recounting Wisconsin’s nearly three million votes for president began Thursday with scores of hastily hired temporary workers flipping through stacks of ballots as observers watched their every move.
The action in Wisconsin could soon be duplicated in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was pushing for recounts. Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in all three states, but recounts were not expected to flip nearly enough votes to change the outcome in any of the states.
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The Wisconsin recount marked the first time in 16 years there was a candidate-driven recount of a presidential recount. But it doesn’t carry the same drama as the drama of the Florida presidential recount of 2000, when the outcome of the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush hung in the balance.
“This is certainly not Bush v. Gore,” said Wisconsin’s chief elections administrator, Mike Haas.
Even so, the campaigns for Trump, Clinton and Stein all had observers spread throughout the state to watch the process. The recount will have to move quickly. The federal deadline to certify the vote to avoid having the fate of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes decided by Congress is Dec. 13. Even if that were to happen, the votes would almost certainly go to Trump, since Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
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Most counties will manually recount the ballots, although Stein lost a court challenge this week to force hand recounts everywhere. The state’s largest county, Milwaukee, was recounting the ballots by feeding them through the same machines that counted them on election night. In Dane County, where Clinton won 71 per cent of the vote, the ballots were being counted by hand.
Workers in Dane County are being paid $20 an hour and will work two shifts over about 12 hours a day to get the recount done by the deadline, said County Clerk Scott McDonell. He didn’t expect much change in the results.
“I think we will be very close to what was reported on election night,” McDonell said Thursday.
Clinton lost to Trump by about 22,000 votes in Wisconsin, or less than a percentage point.
Stein has argued, without evidence, that irregularities in the votes in all three states suggest that there could have been tampering with the vote, perhaps through a well-co-ordinated, highly complex cyberattack.
“Verifying the vote through this recount is the only way to confirm that every vote has been counted securely and accurately and is not compromised by machine or human error, or by tampering or hacking,” Stein said in a statement Thursday.
Stein’s critics, including the Wisconsin Republican Party, contend that she’s a little-known candidate who is merely trying to raise her profile while raising millions of dollars. Stein has taken in nearly $7 million for the recounts, which is about twice as much as her longshot presidential campaign took in.
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The Wisconsin recount was estimated to cost about $3.9 million. Stein paid $973,250 for the recount in Michigan.
The Trump campaign on Thursday objected to a hand recount of Michigan’s presidential votes, at least delaying the planned Friday start of the recount there.
The Board of State Canvassers will meet Friday to hear arguments. The Michigan Bureau of Elections says the recount cannot proceed for two business days after the four-member, bipartisan board resolves the objection.
READ MORE: Donald Trump says recount push a ‘scam’, calls on Americans to accept results
Trump’s attorneys say Stein, who finished fourth in Michigan, isn’t “aggrieved” by any alleged election fraud or mistake, that a recount couldn’t be finished on time and that her petition wasn’t properly signed. They say Stein is asking for an expensive, time-consuming recount “on the basis of nothing more than speculation.”
In Pennsylvania, a hearing is scheduled for Monday on Stein’s push to secure a court-ordered statewide recount, a legal manoeuvr that has never been tried, according to one of the lawyers who filed it.
Stein’s attorneys want a forensic analysis of electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania to see if there any evidence that their software was hacked. But counties where Green Party-backed voters have sought a recount are refusing to do such forensic examinations.
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.