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WI Recount Stokes Anger About Perceptions of Black Voters

The Rev. Greg Lewis, pictured, heads the group Souls to the Polls-Milwaukee. The organization says its focus is to unite ministers and congregations to strengthen the voting power of the Black community. (Souls to the Polls)
The Rev. Greg Lewis, pictured, heads the group Souls to the Polls-Milwaukee. The organization says its focus is to unite ministers and congregations to strengthen the voting power of the Black community. (Souls to the Polls)
November 20, 2020

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- A partial recount of Wisconsin votes in the presidential race begins today. It comes amid repeated election-fraud claims from President Donald Trump, despite those claims going unfounded.

A Milwaukee voter-outreach group views the request as an attack on Black voters.

Trump requested a ballot recount in Milwaukee and Dane counties, both of which are considered more liberal. Milwaukee County also is home to the state's largest number of Black residents at nearly 27%.

The Rev. Greg Lewis, executive director of the group Souls to the Polls, said that after all the outreach work that was done in the middle of a pandemic, it's difficult to see a recount with such a narrow focus.

"It's very disrespectful for someone to come along and really cast a shadow and cast doubt over," he said, "where everything that is done in this community has been legitimate."

He said Black Wisconsinites also had to overcome the state's restrictive voting laws. Milwaukee's Democratic mayor echoed the sentiments, calling the recount effort an "attack on minorities."

The Trump campaign paid a $3 million fee for the recount, while asserting that a number of absentee ballots in these counties were illegally altered and issued.

That topic came up this week in a meeting of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which authorized the recount. Commission Chair Ann Jacobs took issue with suggestions from other board members that such irregularities happened in areas such as Milwaukee County.

"That's the problem I'm having with this discussion is, we're implying that there are these thieves, these criminals, in charge of elections in our two largest counties," she said, "and what I think we ought not be doing is watering that plant of baloney."

Lewis said the overall rhetoric also adds to assumptions about how Black residents vote and whom they support. He noted that while he saw more energy in his community now than in 2016, many Black voters with whom he engaged weren't excited about either major party's candidate.

"It was hard to get the community to buy into the process," he said.

The recounts must be completed by Dec. 1. President-elect Joe Biden won in Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes.

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Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI