Sewell v. Racine Unified School District Board of Canvassers

No. 20-AP-1271-AC

Voters in Racine narrowly approved a school-funding referendum at the April 7, 2020 spring election. The measure’s passage was certified following a recount, performed by the Board of Canvassers (BOC) as required by Wisconsin law. Three Racine residents challenged the result of the recount in court, insisting the court should perform an additional recount in open court.

The school district successfully argued the court’s review of the recount did not require a re-do of the counting itself and prevailed at the circuit court and on appeal. The court of appeals confirmed opening the ballots in court was unnecessary as (1) the ballots had already been opened by the Board of Canvassers during its recount; and (2) the circuit court found that “the procedure utilized by the BOC in this recount was proper and provided an accurate result.” Sewell and the other petitioners have now appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The proper handling of ballots and chain of custody issues have wide-ranging impacts beyond this specific election. In addition to Wisconsin’s state laws regarding ballots and recounts, federal laws address preservation and handling of ballots that include federal races. Law Forward filed an amicus brief addressing the potential wide-ranging consequences of the ballot issues touched on in this case on August 18th, 2021.

Case Timeline


August 18, 2021

Brief filed.

April 12, 2022

The Supreme Court affirmed the appellate and circuit courts, leaving the recount results in place. The Supreme Court upheld the integrity and finality of a recount undertaken by the Racine Unified School District’s Board of Canvassers in accordance with state law. In a time when right-wing conspiracy theorists constantly seek to undermine the results of elections with which they disagree, this decision is a welcome one. It will hopefully discourage future groundless attempts to demand additional recounts after the votes have already been professionally recounted. However, the Court did leave the door open for this type of effort happening again.

Amicus Brief, Election Administration

Wisconsin Supreme Court