Wisconsin’s presidential election will be tallied yet again if representatives from President Donald Trump’s campaign file a recount request with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Campaign representatives said they intend to do just that, but the cost of a recount will likely be millions of dollars.
As of Monday, Nov. 9, Democrat Joe Biden appeared to have a 20,427-vote lead over Trump in Wisconsin—a margin of 0.62 percent—according to the WEC.
This state’s election results are unofficial until certified by each individual counties’ board of canvassers and reported to and certified by the WEC. The deadline for the reports is Tuesday, Nov. 17. Only after the county reports are filed can a recount be requested.
WEC officials have noted that official election results normally take some time to be counted and then certified. With more absentee ballots being cast this election due to the coronavirus pandemic, state election officials have warned that vote counts will take longer—even several days to count. In past elections, the results compiled and reported by news media after polls close have shown wider margins and therefore a clearer idea of who is the presumptive, apparent winner.
Record numbers of absentee ballots had been and are being counted in other states, leading to longer times for results. With close or incomplete results in many key, “battleground” states, including Wisconsin, it was not possible to declare a presumptive winner on election night, Nov. 3. As of Nov. 9, Biden appeared to have 279 to 290 Electoral College votes compared to Trump’s 214, with 34 not yet called from Georgia, South Carolina and Alaska. The winner needs at least 270 Electoral College votes, collected from the states they win.
Recounts could also happen in Georgia and Pennsylvania, according to published news reports.
Formally, the next president is officially determined following the certification of state results and the voting of the Electoral College on Monday, Dec. 14. The result of the Electoral College vote is recorded with Congress during the first week of January.
In the rare case where no candidate receives enough electoral votes, the U.S. House of Representatives chooses the president and the Senate chooses the vice president. This has only happened in 1801, 1825 and 1837.
Requesting, running a recount
According to the Wisconsin Election Commission’s recount manual, there is no automatic recount, “even if the unofficial results are extremely close.”
The split of candidates’ votes must be within one percent (of the percentage of total votes cast) for the trailing candidate to petition for a recount. Rules are similar but have some distinctions for races under 4,000 votes, for referendums and for races where there is more than one candidate elected—such as school board seats.
If the split between the leading and trailing candidates is 0.25 to 1 percent, the petitioning candidate must pay a filing fee. The filing fee includes the estimated cost of the recount.
If the certified recount shows a split of less than 0.25 percent or reverses the outcome of the election, the filing fee is not needed or it is refunded. If the split remains below the 0.25 percent threshold, the fee remains in place and the petitioning candidate must pay any remaining balance of the cost of the recount.
A petition for a presidential election recount has to be filed before 5 p.m. on the first business day following the final certified results from the last county to the WEC. This could be as late as Wednesday, Nov. 18, but could be earlier, pending certified results being sent in from the 72 counties.
The WEC must notify the candidates and counties of the order for a recount. Once received, the county boards of canvassers must start the recount within three days and report the recount within 13 days.
The county boards of canvassers handle the recounts and are comprised of the county clerk and two residents, one of which must belong to a different party than the clerk. The recounts can be observed by members of the public and campaigns.
Election and recount laws vary from state to state. According to ballopedia.org, in Arizona, a recount is required if the result margin is 0.1 percent or less, but cannot be requested by a candidate or voters. A candidate can only request a recount in Georgia if the result margin is 0.5 percent or less. In Pennsylvania, voters can request a recount at any margin.
For Wisconsin, the results will be considered official once they are certified by each counties’ board of canvassers and certified by the WEC, following the recount.
Repeat of 2016, sort of
A recount was conducted in the Wisconsin 2016 presidential election, however recount laws were slightly different before the law was changed in 2017. Under Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican-controlled state legislature, the 1-percent split rule was added.
Presidential candidates, Jill Stein (Green Party) and Rocque “Rocky” De La Fuente (Independent Party) petitioned for a recount for the November 2016 election, and Stein paid a $3.5 million filing fee to fund it. A recount this year would likely cost a similar amount, or more, since there are more absentee ballots to count.
In 2016, Donald Trump’s lead over Hillary Clinton was similar to the vote split this time around. Trump had a 22,617 vote margin (a 0.760 percent lead) over Clinton. After the recount, 837 more votes were counted (a total of 2,976,150 statewide). Trump’s margin was 22,748 and increased his lead to 0.764 percent. Clinton gained 713 and Stein gained 66.
The 2016 recount lasted ten days, ending on Dec. 12. It did not change the outcome of the election—Trump won Wisconsin over Clinton, Stein and other third-party candidates, and earned enough electoral college votes to win the presidency.