Republican Commissioners Block Wisconsin Recount Changes, Request Wider Machine Audit

bob spindell, dean knudson

Wisconsin Eye Bob Spindell and Dean Knudson.

Bob Spindell and Dean Knudson are two Republican commissioners on the Wisconsin Elections Commission who blocked changes to the state’s recount manual in a marathon meeting that went until midnight on November 18. At the same meeting, the chair of the Commission, a Democrat, wouldn’t consider Knudson’s request for a statewide voting machine audit if certain error rates occur.

You can watch the lengthy meeting later in this article. During it, the actions of Spindell and Knudson caused some Republicans to praise them as unlikely “heroes” on social media, even as Democrats on the partisan Wisconsin commission criticized them and the president, with one saying that the president was trying to change how the election was run because he didn’t win “the Super Bowl” on Election Day. Some people on social media compared Spindell and Knudson to the two Michigan commissioners who declined to certify Wayne County’s votes before certifying them and then trying to rescind their certification.

The commission meeting occurred as Kayleigh McEnany, White House spokesperson for President Donald Trump, wrote that “HOURS after @TeamTrump filed the Wisconsin recount petition, the Wisconsin Elections Commission met to vote on amending the recount manual to make it more difficult to have an accurate recount. Vote result coming soon!”

Watch it here:

The meeting came after Trump paid $3 million for a partial recount in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, alleging “irregularities,” particularly with absentee ballots. You can read Trump’s petition for a partial recount here. President-elect Joe Biden is ahead in the count in Wisconsin, which Trump narrowly won in 2016. Some Milwaukee aldermen decried the president’s recount petition as “racist” and “evil” in a press release because Milwaukee is a diverse city compared to the rest of Wisconsin, and the president is focusing his efforts there and in Dane County.

Is it true that the manual was changed after Trump’s petition for a partial recount in Dane and Milwaukee Counties? Yes. At the meeting, it was revealed that Elections Commission staff had revised the manual. The key changes focused on whether each absentee ballot application needed to be reviewed as opposed to a log and whether pandemic-related rules would prevent observers from getting close enough.

Here’s what you need to know:


Knudson Accused Democratic Commissioners of ‘Changing the Rules,’ but They Criticized Trump’s Claims of Irregularities

Wisconsin EyeBob Spindell goes through some of the recount manual changes.

Knudson is a former Republican legislator in Wisconsin, a county Republican chair in northern Wisconsin and a veterinarian, according to a profile on Rivertowns.net. Who is Bob Spindell? He served as a Republican delegate for Ted Cruz and previously served on the Milwaukee Election Commission.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has three Democratic members and three Republican members. However, Knudson and Spindell were the most vocal of the Republicans, and Chair Ann Jacobs and member Mark Thomsen, both Democratic lawyers, were the most vocal of the Democrats. The GOP members have contributed money to state GOP candidates, according to a review of Wisconsin Democracy campaign records. The Democratic commissioners are Biden donors, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Wisconsin Elections Commission seats are political appointments. This political divide was apparent during the November 18 meeting. The Commission did approve the partial recount going forward, so it will now commence; but on the matters of the voting machine audit and the recount manual changes, they sharply disagreed.

“You’re changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game,” Knudson told Thomsen, who is a civil lawyer, during the debate on the manual. Jacobs said she was “shocked and offended” that Republicans were implying “that clerks in Milwaukee and Dane sent out unrequested ballots,” calling it a “vague, paranoid conspiracy.”

In the end, the commission deadlocked 3-3 on the manual changes, which means that the old manual stands. That caused Thomsen and Jacobs to assert that state law was controlling, basically saying that clerks shouldn’t use the old manual. Knudson and Spindell raised objection to that, saying the old manual was now in place. Why that matters is because it required actual absentee ballot applications to be reviewed, not just a log. The Trump campaign is trying to raise questions about curing of absentee ballots and incomplete applications.

Thomsen insisted Wisconsin’s elections were “fair,” and criticized the president for claiming every clerk in Wisconsin committed illegalities but only seeking a recount in two counties.

Spindell said, “We don’t know if a bunch of ballots were sent out without application; if someone is raising that question, why wouldn’t we want to prove it? We want to make sure everything is transparent. … We don’t agree with the revisions to the manual. Some of us do not agree with all of the aspects of it.”

Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator, said her staff was asked to consider the “intersection between public health guidance and observers” due to the pandemic. Some of the changes dealt with social distancing and other pandemic safety measures, but Knudson repeatedly raised concerns that local Democratic officials could use the pandemic as a “cover” to prevent Trump’s election observers from getting close enough to see what is going on. Democrats criticized his comments.

Knudson said that the right “to observe the recount should not be infringed by any local health ordinance,” but Thomsen said commissioners don’t have the power to “overrule a local health edict.” Democratic commissioner Julie Glancey then criticized Knudson for “Democrat bashing.”


Jacobs Wouldn’t Allow a Vote on a Statewide Voting Machine Audit Floated by Knudson

Wisconsin EyeAnn Jacobs

With the meeting almost over, Knudson said he wanted a statewide voting machine audit triggered if a certain error rate is met, but Jacobs wouldn’t allow the vote, claiming it wasn’t properly noticed and was sprung “out of the blue” with midnight looming.

Some of that debate centered around the state’s use of Dominion Voting Systems machines, which have become controversial. The company denies widespread issues with its machines. You can read more about Dominion’s background here. In Wisconsin, there are 19 counties using Dominion machines at least in part, but Jacobs said they are all counties Trump won. Election staff said they have had no issues with Dominion machines in the past, and even Knudson said he doubted any major problems would be found.

But Knudson maintained a wider audit is necessary for public confidence. The current state law requires audits of voting machines, but it’s done through the random selection of just some machines.

“You are asking for a statewide audit of every single voting machine. … Those words have never been uttered in the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” said Jacobs, who said there are thousands of machines, the issue wasn’t properly noticed and “we’re not winging it at midnight.” She accused Knudson of being “sneaky” and “scaremongering over Dominion.”

“The chair will not allow us to talk about things because she decides it’s not germane,” responded Knudson.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Deputy Administrator Richard Rydecki said 29 of the 190 reporting units randomly selected for audit are Dominion, which was oversampled. He called concerns about Dominion machines “unfounded.”

“So much has been written and said about the reliability of our voting equipment much of it not based on fact, but it has led to questions in a great percentage of voters,” said Knudson, who wanted an audit “of the vote total for any candidate in an audit reporting unit differs by more than .1 percent from the machine count total or if the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes changes, that that would trigger a statewide audit of all the voting equipment of that manufacturer.”

In a press release, the Wisconsin Elections Commission gave this timeline for a recount:

Wednesday, November 18, 6:00 p.m. – The Wisconsin Elections Commission holds a special meeting to discuss details of the partial recount for president and to review supplements to the Recount Manual in light of public health guidance. Information about the meeting and how to attend online is available here: https://elections.wi.gov/node/7247.

Thursday, November 19, 2020 – The Commission Chair issues the Recount Order. This starts the 13-day recount clock and is also the first day that recount boards can meet.

Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. – The deadline by which county boards of canvassers must convene for the recount (no later than 9:00 a.m. on the third day after the recount order is issued).

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 – The deadline to complete the recount. This is also the deadline, under Wisconsin law, for WEC to certify results from the General Election. Therefore, recounts must be completed and results must be filed with WEC by noon on December 1, 2020.

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