MADISON – The Wisconsin census turned into a guerrilla brawl on Wednesday night, long before the first votes began to be repeated.

The three Republicans and three Democrats on the Wisconsin Electoral Commission clashed repeatedly in a virtual meeting late at night as they tried to establish guidelines for how officials should conduct the census during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I will be happy to see how this committee actually works,” said Commission President Anne Jacobs, a Democrat, as she tried to find a way for both sides to decide how to consider revising the Commission’s Census Handbook.

At 11:30 p.m., after 5 hours of often controversial debates, the committee unanimously approved the census. The commissioners’ inability to understand each other suggests that the census will be brutal and likely end in a courtroom.

President Donald Trump called for a count on Wednesday in Dane and Milwaukee counties after losing the state by about 20,600 votes to Joe Biden. This is a margin of about 0.6 percentage points.

The census must begin on Friday and end by December 1 so that the state can verify the results.

Commissioners debated issues that were minor and important, including how to deal with allegations that absentee ballots had been issued illegally and where observers could be stationed.

At one point, Republican Commissioner Dean Knudson suggested that all absent ballots requested through the state’s online portal were invalid because of the way the system registered those requests.

“I hope we haven’t set up a system in the WEC where, you know, we somehow entice people to ask for a vote that isn’t actually in line with the law,” he said.

Democrats said the position was ridiculous, noting is widely used by voters to request ballots.

Nadson doubted that Democratic County officials would treat observers fairly. Democrats are responsible for the census because Trump limited his census to the two most democratic counties in the state.

“If they can come up with a way to use the pandemic to make it harder for them to see what’s going on, to make it harder to watch, it wouldn’t be uncommon because Democrats have been trying to do it for six months,” he said.

Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomson challenged such sentiments. He said Trump did not complain about Wisconsin’s election policy in 2016 when he won a narrow staff. Trump’s complaints are now unfounded, Thomsen said.

“Instead of recruiting and saying I lost, he now says all the officials are illegal,” Thomson said.

Republican Commissioner Bob Spindel expressed disappointment with the way the census could be conducted, especially in Milwaukee, which drew national attention in the spring when it closed most of its polling stations because of the pandemic.

“I don’t think we can necessarily trust Dane County or Milwaukee adventurers, especially after they reduced 180 polling stations to five horrible polling stations for the April election, which created all sorts of problems, including vote suppression,” Spindel said. .

This gave rise to Democratic Commissioner Julie Glansy, a former Sheboygan County official who usually behaves restrainedly at committee meetings.

“I’m tired of the Democrat blows that are happening here,” she told Spindel. “I could list a dozen cases in my career as a district official where Republicans did something rude. That’s ridiculous. All you and Dean keep talking about is that these evil Democrats are going to do something nasty, so these honest, hard-working Republicans, I won’t be able to see what’s going on, and I’m tired of it. “

The members of the commission were at a dead end with regard to the main provisions of its census manual, such as whether applications for absentee voting should be examined as part of the census. Their inability to reach an agreement on this issue left in place guidelines that these applications should be considered – although this is not the case, according to commission officials.

Democrats said counties should follow the state census law, not necessarily the census manual approved by the commission.

Thomson said the state handbook comes with an asterisk as the commission blocks some elements of it. Nadson didn’t care how Thomson characterized their differences.

“We never voted with an asterisk,” Nadson replied.

Contact Patrick Marley at Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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