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Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden won the battleground prizes of Michigan and Wisconsin on Wednesday, reclaiming a key part of the “blue wall” that slipped away from Democrats four years ago and dramatically narrowing President Donald Trump’s pathway to reelection.

A full day after Election Day, neither candidate had cleared the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden’s victories in the Great Lakes states left him at 264, meaning he was one battleground state away from crossing the threshold and becoming president-elect.

Biden, who has received more than 71 million votes, the most in history, was joined by his running mate Kamala Harris at an afternoon news conference and said he now expected to win the presidency, though he stopped short of outright declaring victory.

“I will govern as an American president,” Biden said. ”There will be no red states and blue states when we win. Just the United States of America.”

It was a stark contrast to Trump, who on Wednesday falsely proclaimed that he had won the election, even though millions of votes remained uncounted and the race was far from over.

The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Biden after election officials in the state said all outstanding ballots had been counted, save for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional votes.

Trump’s campaign requested a recount, thought statewide recounts in Wisconsin have historically changed the vote tally by only a few hundred votes. Biden led by 0.624 percentage point out of nearly 3.3 million ballots counted.

Since 2016, Democrats had been haunted by the crumbling of the blue wall, the trio of Great Lakes states — Pennsylvania is the third — that their candidates had been able to count on every four years. But Trump’s populist appeal struck a chord with white working-class voters and he captured all three in 2016 by a total margin of just 77,000 votes.

Both candidates this year fiercely fought for the states, with Biden’s everyman political persona resonating in blue-collar towns while his campaign also pushed to increase turnout among Black voters in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee.

Pennsylvania remained too early to call Wednesday night.

It was unclear when or how quickly a national winner could be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy. But Biden’s possible pathways to the White House were expanding rapidly.

After the victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, he was just six Electoral College votes away from the presidency. A win in any undecided state except for Alaska — but including Nevada, with its six votes — would be enough to end Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Trump spent much of Wednesday in the White House residence, huddling with advisers and fuming at media coverage showing his Democratic rival picking up key battlegrounds. Trump falsely claimed victory in several key states and amplified unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Democratic gains as absentee and early votes were tabulated.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would formally request a Wisconsin recount, citing “irregularities” in several counties. And the campaign said it was filing suit in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted, and to raise absentee ballot concerns.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted in Pennsylvania, and Trump’s campaign said it was moving to intervene in the existing Supreme Court litigation over counting mail-in ballots there. Yet, the campaign also argued that it was the outstanding votes in Arizona that could reverse the outcome there, showcasing an inherent inconsistency with their arguments.

In other closely watched races, Trump picked up Florida, the largest of the swing states, and held onto Texas and Ohio while Biden kept New Hampshire and Minnesota and flipped Arizona, a state that had reliably voted Republican in recent elections.

The unsettled nature of the presidential race was reflective of a somewhat disappointing night for Democrats, who had hoped to deliver a thorough repudiation of Trump’s four years in office while also reclaiming the Senate to have a firm grasp on all of Washington. But the GOP held onto several Senate seats that had been considered vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas, Maine and Kansas. Democrats lost House seats but were expected to retain control there.

The high-stakes election was held against the backdrop of a historic pandemic that has killed more than 232,000 Americans and wiped away millions of jobs. The U.S. on Wednesday set another record for daily confirmed coronavirus cases as several states posted all-time highs.

The candidates spent months pressing dramatically different visions for the nation’s future, including on racial justice, and voters responded in huge numbers, with more than 100 million people casting votes ahead of Election Day.

Trump, in an extraordinary move from the White House, issued premature claims of victory — which he continued on Twitter Wednesday — and said he would take the election to the Supreme Court to stop the counting. It was unclear exactly what legal action he could try to pursue.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discounted the president’s quick claim of victory, saying it would take a while for states to conduct their vote counts. The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting.”

Vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day, and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. In presidential elections, a key point is the date in December when presidential electors met. That’s set by federal law.

Dozens of Trump supporters chanting “Stop the count!” descended on a ballot-tallying center in Detroit, while thousands of anti-Trump protesters demanding a complete vote count took to the streets in cities across the U.S.

Protests — sometimes about the election, sometimes about racial inequality — took place Wednesday in at least a half-dozen cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and San Diego.

Several states allow mailed-in votes to be accepted as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be accepted if they arrive up to three days later.

Trump appeared to suggest those ballots should not be counted, and that he would fight for that outcome at the high court. But legal experts were dubious of Trump’s declaration. Trump has appointed three of the high court’s nine justices — including, most recently, Amy Coney Barrett.

The Trump campaign on Wednesday pushed Republican donors to dig deeper into their pockets to help finance legal challenges. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, during a donor call, spoke plainly: “The fight’s not over. We’re in it.”

The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures.

Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.

Area residents express frustration, others ask for patience, as vote counting continues
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EAU CLAIRE — Collin Harvotich, 20, of Eau Claire said he was stunned Wednesday at how close the race for the presidency evolved.

“It was weird to go to sleep with a bunch of red states and wake up with a bunch of blue states,” Harvotich said. “I’m a little nervous, a little concerned by that. I don’t think we’ll know who our president will be for a while.”

His friend, 21-year-old Dylan Wall, said he is frustrated by not having more clarity of the winner by mid-day Wednesday.

“I think going into it, they should have been more prepared to get the results out, straight-away,” Wall said. “Hopefully, we’ll hear as soon as we can.”

Area residents shared their thoughts about the state of the presidency race Wednesday, with some stressing the need for every vote to be counted, no more the wait, while others were more anxious to get the final numbers out. With President Donald Trump indicating he will seek a recount in Wisconsin, it may be several days or weeks before the eventual winner is declared.

“It’s okay as long as everyone relaxes, and lets it be,” said Deb Raasch, 68, of rural Menomonie. “People just need to be patient. And PEACEFUL, in all capital letters.”

Justin Bucholz, 28, of Altoona, echoed the request for people to wait peacefully.

“It’s gotten bad already, and we don’t know who won,” Bucholz said.

Bucholz said he is nervous because a lot can happen in the winner’s four-year term.

“I’m just impatiently waiting like everyone else,” Bucholz said.

Ed Leipart, 47, of Eau Claire, said he is frustrated at not knowing the winner yet.

“Why don’t they change the rules so they can start the count early? Why are we having to wait days?” Leipart said. “It would be nice for it not to drag out. We should have a standard way of doing things. Hopefully, we’ll get an answer soon, and it doesn’t drag out in the courts. That’s not what this country needs.”

Adam Wolf, 20, of Eau Claire wasn’t concerned about the delay in election results.

“I think it’s a little strange, but I think it’s expected, with all the COVID-19 problems,” Wolf said.

Chris Holley, 19, of Eau Claire said he had been checking his phone every 15 minutes Wednesday for the latest of updates.

“It’s how I expected it to go,” Holley said. “I knew it would be close.”

Tom Woldmoe, 34, of Eau Claire expressed disgust with the delays.

“It’s annoying,” Woldmoe said. “You think it would be done more efficiently, considering it isn’t the first American election. But that’s politics right now.”

County Board approves 2021 budget
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EAU CLAIRE — Next year’s Eau Claire County budget will be slightly higher than this year.

The operating budget will total $129.97 million, an increase of 4.5% from this year’s operating budget of $124.36 million.

The $129.97 million includes $37.47 million from tax levy, a 4% increase from $36 million in tax levy in 2020. The 2021 tax rate will be $3.96 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, a decrease of 2.6% from $4.07 in 2020.

The Eau Claire County Board approved the 2021 budget by vote of 22-6 during its meeting Wednesday.

The County Board also approved several amendments to the budget proposal.

New highway facility

The County Board approved two amendments to the 2021 capital budget that will result in design and construction of a new Highway Department facility on the south side of Eau Claire occurring in one phase. The facility is estimated to cost $24 million.

The Finance and Budget Committee made the two amendments. One amendment approved construction of a new facility, and the other amendment shifted $2.87 million in borrowing slated for 2021 for design of a new facility to the overall facility borrowing of $24 million over 20 years.

Instead of taking multiple phases to fund the new highway facility, which is slated to be built near U.S. 53 and Highway I, design and construction of the building will occur consecutively.

The Finance and Budget Committee believes one construction phase will save the county money in the long run because of current favorable interest rates.

“We thought it would be more cost effective,” said Supervisor Stella Pagonis, Finance and Budget Committee chair.

Matt Theisen, county facilities director, said the county spoke with area architectural firms that confirmed there would be a 20% to 25% increase in costs if the highway building is done in phases. Theisen said the design of the new building would last about six months and construction of the facility is expected to take about 18 months.

Supervisor Heather DeLuka asked if the borrowing will affect the county bond rating going forward. Pagonis said because it is a 20-year project to fund a building, it is an appropriate use of borrowing.

“We feel that this will not be a detriment to our bond rating,” Pagonis said.

The building would bring all county highway vehicles and equipment under one roof and provide additional climate-controlled storage. It would also include new facilities for shops, offices, garage, storage and grounds. Norb Kirk, county finance director, said the new facility could also potentially serve more than just Highway Department needs, such as a kitchen for the county’s Meals on Wheels program.

Employee health care

The County Board approved seven amendments to the operational budget, including a change in funding to employee health care. The Finance and Budget Committee adjusted the initial 50% decrease in the employee Health Savings Account to a 25% decrease in 2021, and the committee offset that spending by increasing sales tax revenue projections by $200,000 to a total of $10.05 million.

Largely because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf’s initial budget proposal had sales tax revenue estimates of $9.85 million for next year, which is $1 million less than this year. The Finance and Budget Committee believed Schauf’s estimate was too conservative and that “a more gradual decrease in the HSA would give employees additional time to make alternate plans for funding out-of-pocket expenses,” according to an informational memo from the committee.

Other business

The County Board approved three amendments to the capital budget, including adding $50,000 to construct a sixth courtroom.

The next County Board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1.