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Election recount costs likely lower than expected in Columbia County

December 13, 2016

It's the Board of Canvass that makes the final decision on the historic presidential election recount in Wisconsin, and in Columbia County that board consists of, left to right, Margo Miller of Portage, representing the Democratic Party; County Clerk Susan Moll and Bobbie Goodman of Pardeeville, representing the Republican Party.

Columbia County’s recount numbers are in.

Additional votes found for Donald Trump: 3.

Additional votes found for Hillary Clinton: 2.

Votes lost by the candidate that asked for the recount, Green Party nominee Jill Stein: 1.

Hours invested in examining poll books, ballots, absentee ballot envelopes and other election documents by hand: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 1, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 and 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5.

Number of tabulators working: 45 on Dec. 1, 49 on Dec. 2, 41 on Dec. 5.

Number of people who came forward to be tabulators: 80.

Number of tabulators who worked all three days of the recount: 17.

Columbia County Clerk Susan Moll presented this summary Monday to the County Board’s Executive Committee, which oversees the work of the clerk’s office.

And yes, the people working in the clerk’s office worked far beyond their normal hours to complete the job well before Monday’s deadline, but they weren’t the only county employees caught up in the historic but tedious task.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office staff had to prepare the room at the Law Enforcement Center, including moving out the computers that are normally housed in the county’s computer training area and hooking up computer connections for the clerk’s office.

Buildings and Grounds staff hauled two truckloads of election materials, including not only the 29,914 paper ballots cast in Columbia County for the Nov. 8 election, but also poll books, absentee ballot envelopes and other documentation relevant to the election.

And, the Human Resources Department has to cut checks for the tabulators, after computing the time that each spent at the job -- based on the sign-in sheets that everyone attending the recount had to sign.

Moll said she doesn’t know the final cost of the recount yet, but it’s almost certainly less than the $126,281.85 cost that Moll initially estimated at the behest of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The Stein campaign paid the state, and each county will apply to the state for reimbursement.

At the time she made the estimate, Moll said, there were several things she didn’t know, including how long it would take to hand-count all those ballots, whether weekend work would be required (it wasn’t) and where the recount would take place. At the time, it was possible that the recount would have to be conducted outside of county property, if adequate and secure space couldn’t be found in one of the county’s buildings.

If nothing else, said County Board First Vice Chairwoman Mary Cupery of the town of Fort Winnebago, the recount made it clear that Columbia County’s 10-year-old vote tabulating machines are reliable and accurate.

Moll said that the most of the changes in the vote total stemmed from ballots that were not properly marked -- ballots that the automated tabulator would have rejected, but which offered clear evidence of the voter’s intent to vote for a particular candidate.

One of the more creatively marked ballots that the tabulators came across had marked at the ovals next to every presidential candidate on the ballot, except Trump. But while the “anybody but Trump” intent was clear, Moll said, that ballot did not result in a vote being awarded to anyone.

County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage said Moll’s experience and professionalism was a key factor in the recount going as smoothly and quickly as it did.

“It was like being a referee for a while,” he said, referring to Moll and the other members of the Board of Canvass -- Republican representative Bobbie Goodman of Pardeeville and Democratic representative Margo Miller of Portage.

Ruf said Moll made a smart management decision when she formed teams of tabulators, by making sure that each team had at least one member who’d been through a recount before. The most recent statewide recount was in the spring of 2011, when Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg challenged the victory of incumbent Justice David Prosser.

Ruf joined Moll in praising the tabulators -- who were either municipal clerks or experienced election workers -- for being willing to work.

“To get 80 people to show up for a really, really important but incredibly tedious task -- it says a lot,” Ruf said.

Executive Committee Member Kirk Konkel of Portage said he thinks the County Board should adopt a resolution praising the county’s handling of the recount.

That will happen, Gove said -- probably at the County Board’s January meeting.

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