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As Wisconsin’s partial recount wrapped up and left President-elect Joe Biden with a net increase of 74 votes beyond his original margin of victory of more than 20,000 votes, President Donald Trump’s team filed a lawsuit Tuesday to overturn the result.
Clearing the path for the lawsuit was the broader purpose of the recount.
Here are four issues at the center of the lawsuit:
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More: Wisconsin confirms Biden’s win as Trump says he will bring a lawsuit
Early in-person voting
Wisconsin voters cast more than 1.9 million ballots before Election Day — either by mail, left in drop boxes or at in-person early voting locations. The total is equivalent to 63% of all ballots cast in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic was a massive factor, with election officials repeatedly noting throughout the fall that the number of absentee ballots cast was much larger than any prior election cycle.
Trump’s team is seeking to throw out 238,420 ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties, and one of two main targets is absentee ballots cast in-person at early voting locations.
State law requires those who vote absentee to apply for absentee ballots in writing. Trump’s campaign alleges that early in-person voters did not follow this rule.
Those requesting absentee ballots to vote via mail use a separate application or request process — completed by many this cycle on the MyVote.WI.gov site. When someone votes early in-person, that’s done along with voting in one fell swoop.
Following procedures set by clerks and state election officials, those voters signed a statement on their ballot envelope labeled “absentee ballot application/certification.”
According to election officials, that has been treated as an application for an absentee ballot for years, including in the 2016 election, when President Trump carried Wisconsin.
Trump’s team contends that votes cast early in-person in Milwaukee and Dane counties — the state’s most populous counties — should be disqualified since the ballots did not include a separate application.
The two counties targeted, both left-leaning, had sizable portions of their total vote cast early in-person. In Milwaukee County, 23.7% of votes were cast early in-person, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of voting data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. In Dane County, which also went for Biden, 17.7% of votes were cast early in-person.
Counties Trump won also saw high levels of in-person early voting, with some even higher than Milwaukee — and those ballots are not being challenged by the campaign.
In Racine County, 30.4% of votes were early in-person. Other counties that Trump won that saw high levels of early in-person votes include Washington (29.8%), Ozaukee (28.9%), Waukesha (28.6%) and Kenosha (28.6%).
ELECTION RESULTS: See a county by county breakdown for Wisconsin
That has led to concerns that mostly Democrats in left-leaning counties would be penalized for following identical procedures to their Republican counterparts in right-leaning counties.
These early, in-person procedures have been in place for more than a decade and were established when Republicans controlled state government outright prior to Gov. Tony Evers’ tenure.
More: Trump wants to throw out ballots from 238,000 Wisconsin voters
Voters who didn’t submit a voter ID because they identified as ‘indefinitely confined’
Some ballots Trump is seeking to disqualify affect residents who identify as “indefinitely confined,” allowing them to vote absentee without meeting the state photo identification requirements.
Under Wisconsin law, most voters must show a valid photo ID when voting, like a Wisconsin driver’s license or state identification card.
Indefinitely confined voters are exempt from this rule.
More than 200,000 Wisconsinites identified themselves as “indefinitely confined” for this past election.
The indefinitely confined status is self-determined by voters and does not require permanent or total inability to travel outside the residence. Qualifying factors include age, physical illness or disability, the Wisconsin Election Commission’s site states.
Some voters may additionally qualify as indefinitely confined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clerks are allowed to contact voters to verify that status but are advised that those calls should be made “using appropriate discretion” to protect voter privacy.
The election commission adds that post-election, there may be the need to review absentee voting rolls to confirm voters who met the definition of indefinitely confined during the public health crisis would like to continue that status.
The Trump campaign argues that ballots should be thrown out for all indefinitely confined voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties because it believes some of them didn’t meet the criteria.
His team has yet to say why indefinitely confined voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties should be specifically targeted.
More: President Trump is seeking a recount in two Wisconsin counties, but what he’s really doing is preparing for a lawsuit.
Clerks filling in witness information
In Wisconsin, absentee ballots must be returned in an envelope that is signed by both the voter and a witness. The witness must also fill in their address.
If a witness doesn’t provide an address, clerks are allowed to fill the addresses in if they can find that information by talking to the voter, talking to the witness or looking at voter rolls and tax databases. That policy was put forward in 2016 by Republicans serving on the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
This method of clerks fixing errors is known as “curing” a ballot.
Trump is arguing that only a voter or witness can fill out the address on the ballots and that ballots a clerk has “cured” for witness addresses should therefore be disqualified.
In April 2020, an election that also had a higher than usual volume of absentee voting because of the pandemic, more than 14,000 ballots were rejected because of missing addresses — or 1.08% of all absentee ballots.
And although this issue would be present in all of Wisconsin counties, Trump’s suit targets only Dane and Milwaukee counties.
Democracy in the Park events
Republicans have been battling votes cast in Democracy in the Park initiatives in Madison since before the events even occurred, and Trump has sought to disqualify those votes.
Madison poll workers were in every local park to register voters and accept absentee ballots.
Absentee envelopes were secured with a tamper-evident seal. Poll workers documented the seal number and the number of absentee ballots collected, then took the ballots to the city clerk’s office, where both the seal number and the number of absentee ballots were verified.
The clerk’s office then scanned the barcode on each returned absentee envelope the following day.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, both Republicans, sent a cease-and-desist letter to City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. Calling the event “illegal,” the letter warned that ballots collected could be disqualified.
The event was held despite the letter, and more than 10,000 absentee ballots were collected. The Trump campaign tried unsuccessfully to throw out those ballots during the recount, alleging the events amounted to early voting before the state’s two-week early-voting period began.
Correction, Dec. 2, 2020: This story has been updated. The rates of early in-person voting is a percentage of total votes cast, not percentage of registered voters.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Here are the 4 voting issues at the heart of Trump’s Wisconsin election lawsuit