This is what I tweeted the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Had I known then that the back of my head was going to make national news, I would have packed a hairbrush along with my coffee and knitting to take to the Wisconsin Center.
Two days prior, the Trump Campaign had wired $3 million to recount the vote in Wisconsin’s two most populous (also liberal & melanin-rich) counties (Dane and Milwaukee.) They’d gotten a quote for $7.9 million to recount the entire state but went for the cheaper option. The money came from donors who believed his lies about a “stolen election.”
I got in line to get into the Wisconsin Center, aka “Recount Central.” Just inside the door was temperature screening and wristband application.
Then was the metal detector and bag search. With the help and support of no fewer than three expert and very patient knitters, I had, in the week prior, managed to complete a sock. I was just reaching the point on the second where things were going to get dicey. So I brought it to work on over our lunch break.
Up two escalator levels was the enormous room where the recount would take place.
It looked like the weirdest wedding reception setup ever. Immediately inside “Hall D” was holding area where chairs, placed at socially distanced intervals, faced a monitor. Most of rest of the room was taken up by rows of tables. Each had a plexiglass shield bisecting it; two chairs on one side were for us – the counters. The three across from us were for observers. The idea was to accommodate one Republican, one Democrat and one Independent.
I paired up with Jeff, an election chief who has run the same polling site for several years. It was instant reassurance – after three elections worth of absentee-ballot counting, I felt pretty comfortable with that process. But I knew next to nothing about how things worked at a polling site, so having a partner who understood that was gold. He was also a lot of fun, and a couple of us ended up channeling grade school by planning theme days.
The whole county was in that room – we, being the city, had the largest number of tables and counters. It was fascinating to see the signs for all the municipalities and know we were all about to be doing something big.
The Milwaukee County Election Commission was set up against the wall closest to the entrance at the midpoint of the room. Lawyers for both campaigns were amassing, as were media. The room was bisected by a row of tables without plexiglass; those were for media. There was also another row of socially distanced chairs set up facing the Election Commission area.
We were starting with the absentee ballots. After counting the envelopes in our wards (we’d each count the same pile and be sure our totals matched before moving on to the next), we would open the sealed ballot bags and count the contents, then compare that total to the election day results. Then, we’d take everything to the tabulators so they could run the ballots through. (See Part 1 for particulars.)
We took our oath and sat down. Then, they let the observers in.
Hundreds of people surged into the room in what looked like a solid mass before branching off in small clusters to head for tables. The ones who didn’t get a chair stood. Picture an angry patron in an expensive restaurant who demands to see the manager to complain about not getting the service they think they deserve. Now picture them in front of the manager and multiply that by several hundred.
Jeff and I ended up with three observers and a larger crowd behind us for starters. Every time I picked up an envelope to count it, an observer immediately objected on the grounds that it didn’t have an accompanying declaration of something I can’t remember anymore. At every table, it was the same. The count was halted 10 minutes in and didn’t resume for the five or six hours it took for the Commission and the lawyers to hammer things out.
In the meantime, I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong with my sock. Jeff and I also engaged our observers in conversation. We found some common ground, which made things easier once we were able to resume counting.
I spent a peaceful Saturday working at the library. Meanwhile, over at Recount Central, the counters were suffering more abuse. On the upside, the observers were getting schooled. One was ejected after getting physical with a Sheriff’s deputy because she didn’t want to wear a mask. The third chair was removed from every table, only one observer from each party was allowed at a table and everyone had to wear a mask. Over their noses, too.
It made a big difference. By Monday, the emotional temperature of the room was much cooler and we were able to count in relative peace. During downtime, I’d pull out my knitting.
“You may now observe me knitting a sock,” I would tell them. It turned out to be a really good icebreaker. Also, the agony my three experts had gone through to help me through the first sock paid off – I finished the second during the recount.
By Wednesday, the count was complete. Thursday was Thanksgiving. On Friday, we did an audit. That involved hand-counting ballots from four wards and actually noting how many votes each candidate got in four races – presidential, congressional and two local races (assembly and county clerk). Then, those numbers were checked against the tape from the voting machines. (Everything we did checked out.)
Earlier in the week, some of us had talked about what we were going to do with our share of the $3 million. People were using it to travel when the pandemic was over, others were happy to have some extra to pay bills and buy holiday gifts. I treated Sweetheart and I to Shabbat pizza that night. Then, the next day, I bought sock yarn and ordered, as holiday gifts, a pair of really nice weighted blankets.