Georgia, Wisconsin recounts likely will not change Trump election defeat, officials say

(Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s attempts to cling to power appeared more tenuous than ever on Wednesday as election officials in Georgia said a soon-to-be-completed recount was not likely to change President-elect Joe Biden’s victory there.

Georgia is one of several states where Trump’s campaign is contesting election returns, so far without success. Election officials there said recount results due to be announced on Thursday were not likely to overturn Biden’s 14,000-vote victory in the state. They also said the recount would not provide evidence for Trump’s unsupported claims of widespread fraud.

“He’s been misinformed on that front,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, told reporters.

Election officials in Wisconsin likewise said that a partial recount requested by the Trump campaign would not reverse the Republican incumbent’s loss in that state, which he won in 2016.

Trump himself has stayed out of the public eye while venting his anger on Twitter. His election-related lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan have met with little courtroom success.

Trump’s refusal to concede the Nov. 3 election is blocking the smooth transition to a new administration and complicating Biden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Opinion polls show Trump’s unfounded claims about the election having been “rigged” have a political benefit, with as many as half of Trump’s fellow Republicans believing them, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Arizona’s top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, said she faced escalating threats of violence and blamed Trump for spreading misinformation to undermine trust in the results.

The president is holding out hope that a manual recount ordered by Georgia can erase Biden’s lead there. The state’s top election official said that was unlikely.

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“I don’t believe at the end of the day it’ll change the total results,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, told CNN.

As of Wednesday morning, Biden’s lead over Trump had fallen to 12,781 ballots, down from 14,156 previously, according to Sterling, the state voting system manager. Sterling said he expected the recount to be completed by midnight EST on Wednesday (0500 GMT Thursday) and certified by the state on Friday.

In Wisconsin, the state Elections Commission said it would oversee recounts in two heavily Democratic counties - Milwaukee and Dane, which includes Madison - after the Trump campaign paid $3 million, less than the $7.9 million estimated cost of a statewide recount.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said a recount would start on Friday and finish within days. He said the recount would probably not change the tally significantly. “Certainly nothing anywhere near what would be required for changing the outcomes,” he said.

Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes to lead Trump 49.5% to 48.8%.

In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the election winner, Biden captured 306 votes to Trump’s 232. He won the popular vote by more than 5.8 million.

To remain in office, Trump would need to overturn results in at least three large and closely competitive states to reach the threshold of 270 electoral votes. That would be unprecedented.

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Trump is also challenging results in Michigan, falsely claiming on Wednesday that the number of votes in Detroit had surpassed the number of residents. The largest city in the state is heavily Democratic.

“In Detroit, there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE. Nothing can be done to cure that giant scam. I win Michigan!” he tweeted.

City records show that 250,138 votes were cast there in the presidential election. That is a little more than a third of the city’s population, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau is 670,031.

The state’s top election official said all counties, including Detroit’s Wayne County, had certified their tallies.

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In Pennsylvania, Trump’s campaign sought to reintroduce claims to a lawsuit it dropped three days ago that alleged that Republican observers were not allowed to watch ballot counting. Lawyers said they had dropped the claims because of miscommunication.

Earlier in the day, the state Supreme Court said it would hear an appeal in a separate case challenging thousands of mail-in votes in Philadelphia.

Biden held a virtual meeting on Wednesday with frontline healthcare workers in Delaware who complained about a lack of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests for themselves.

He warned that the delay in declaring him the election winner could mean that “soon we’re going to be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative” to distribute coronavirus vaccines when they become available.

The General Services Administration agency, run by a Trump appointee, has yet to formally declare an election winner. Biden’s team says that is hindering coordination with the current White House coronavirus task force.

States face a Dec. 8 deadline to certify election results in time for the official Electoral College vote on Dec. 14.

Congress is scheduled to count the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, which is normally a formality. But Trump supporters in the Senate and House of Representatives could object to the results in a final, desperate attempt to deprive Biden of 270 electoral votes and turn the final decision over to the House.

Election officials from both parties, across the United States, have said there is no evidence of vote tampering, and a federal review drew the same conclusion.

Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Tom Hals in Delaware, Jason Lange, Doina Chiacu, John Whitesides and Simon Lewis in Washington; Jan Wolfe in Boston; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell; Editing by Ross Colvin, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney