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Local officials brace for Wisconsin recount

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking /File Photo

The process of recounting every presidential ballot cast in Wisconsin begins this week, including Pierce and St. Croix counties.

Wisconsin's election board on Friday approved the recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. She has said she wants to guarantee the integrity of the U.S. voting system since computer hacking had marked the Nov. 8 election.

Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign will take part in a Wisconsin recount of votes cast in the U.S. presidential race won by Republican Donald Trump, a campaign official said on Saturday.

Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm said that process will mean assembling a team of canvassers to go through all 21,508 ballots cast there in the general election.

It wasn't clear Monday afternoon if the recount petitioner would be requesting all ballots to be recounted by hand or if voting machines would be allowed to retabulate the results. Feuerhelm said it's more timely and costly to do it by hand.

But even if machines are allowed to help in Pierce County, Feuerhelm said the effort will likely take days to complete.

"It's still going to take a long time," he said.

Some Pierce County ballots will have to be hand-counted regardless. Perhaps ironically, those will be from ballots cast at precincts using touch screens. Feuerhelm explained that the touch-screen machines record a paper ballot that can't be sent back through a machine to be re-tabulated.

Marc Elias, the Clinton campaign counsel, said the campaign had not planned to seek a recount since its own investigation had failed to turn up any sign of hacking of voting systems.

"But now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides," Elias said in a post on the Medium website.

Feuerhelm said he doubts the Wisconsin recount, at least, will yield many changes in the final tally. He said the process voters must go through here, which includes registering, then presenting an ID prior to voting, "has really strengthened any case against voter fraud."

"That isn't an easy process to fraudulate," Feuerhelm said. "I don't have any suspicion that there's widespread fraud in Pierce County or Wisconsin."

A similar recount effort the state went through in 2012 yielded "very few" changes to the final totals — and those were generally voters who marked up ballots with handwritten changes, he said.

Touch-screen voting machines, which require voters to reconfirm information and reject entries where users select too many candidates, are even harder to scam, Feuerhelm said.

"There are checks and balances within that program that alert the voter," he said.

Clinton's campaign should be legally represented in Wisconsin to be able to monitor the recount, Elias said.

Feuerhelm said he had not yet heard from campaign officials who might observe the Pierce County recount, which will be conducted at the Seyforth Building at the Pierce County Fairgrounds. The recount is open to the public to observe.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan were battleground states where Trump edged out Clinton by relatively thin margins. Although Trump won the Electoral College tally, Clinton will have won the national popular vote by more than 2 million ballots when the final results are in.

The Wisconsin recount will include examining by hand the state's nearly 3 million ballots. The recount, expected to begin later this week, faces a Dec. 13 deadline.

Stein has raised $5.8 million of the $7 million needed to cover fees and legal costs for recounts in the three states, according to her campaign website.

The Wisconsin filing fee is $1.1 million, and the $500,000 filing fee has been raised for a recount in Pennsylvania, the site said. Stein filed on Monday.

The voting margins make it highly unlikely any recounts would end up giving Clinton a win in all three states, which would be needed for the overall election result to change.

Experts urged extra scrutiny of the three states, Stein told CNN on Friday, because their voting systems were seen as vulnerable.

Reuters contributed to this report

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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