Wisconsin Recount 2020 Rules for Trump vs. Biden: How Would It Work?

wisconsin recount 2020

Getty A scene from a past Wisconsin election.

With Wisconsin’s unofficial vote totals showing a narrow victory for Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump’s campaign now says he will request a recount in the Badger state.

How will a recount work in Wisconsin? The state has been through this process before; in 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein requested a recount in Wisconsin. Trump’s 2016 victory in the state actually increased by 131 votes after that recount was completed.

In that recount, a series of errors were found in wards and cities throughout the state. They ranged from voters using improper pens to jammed ballots. However, they simply did not amount to enough to move the needle, especially because both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton gained and lost votes, canceling out each other’s gains.

According to Wisconsin’s top elections officials, all votes are counted now in the 2020 election except for provisional ballots and a few hundred votes in a single small community in Richland County, but official results won’t be known until a canvassing process is completed.

Still, the unofficial results show that Biden’s margin is within the range needed for Trump to request a recount, which is not automatic in Wisconsin. But he will have to pay for it.

You can see the state’s recount manual here.

Here’s what you need to know:


Trump Will Be Able to Request a Recount But the State Won’t Pay the Cost

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Trump’s campaign wasted no time in announcing the recount request will be made.

“There have been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results. The President is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement, according to The Hill.

The unofficial tally for Wisconsin showed Democrat Joe Biden with 1,630,431 votes, and Republican Donald Trump with 1,609,898 votes. That’s 49.4% for Biden and 48.8% for Trump, a difference of .6%.

Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top elections official, said Wisconsin was the only state to complete a presidential recount in 2016. Recounts in Wisconsin are conducted at the county level; the state has 72 counties.

According to Wolfe, there is a statutory recount process that holds that the aggrieved party seeking the recount has to be one of the top two vote getters. They can seek a recount if the margin of victory is within 1%. According to Wolfe, the candidate must cover the cost if the margin is between .26% and 1%. The state will pay the cost for any recount if the margin of victory is .25% or less.

There is no automatic recount in the state of Wisconsin.

The recount manual states:

A recount is requested by filing a sworn petition with the filing officer along with the filing fee, if required. For the office of the president, a petition for recount must be filed not earlier than the completion of the canvass and not later than 5 p.m. on the 1st business day following the day on which the WEC receives the last county board of canvassers statement. For all other offices, a petition for recount must be filed not earlier than the completion of the canvass and not later than 5 p.m. on the 3rd business day following the last meeting day of the board of canvassers determining the result for the office/referendum. Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)1

The petitioner must provide a basis for the recount, according to the manual, which states:

The basis for requesting the recount. This can consist of a general statement that the petitioner believes that a mistake or fraud was committed in a specified ward or municipality in the counting and return of the votes cast for the office; or more specific grounds, such as a particular defect, irregularity, or illegality in the conduct of the election, may be listed in the petition. The petitioner shall state if this information is based on personal knowledge of the petitioner or if the petitioner believes the information to be true based on information received from other sources. Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)2.b.

According to Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Election Commission, candidates have three days to make a request for a recount after they get the last county’s official results in; he didn’t provide that date.


Wolfe Disputes Claims of Problems With the Election

wisconsin outstanding ballots

GettyA previous election in Wisconsin.

Wolfe denied any knowledge of irregularities in a virtual press conference held the day after the election. “Every single one of those jurisdictions has submitted their unofficial results, except for one tiny township of less than 300 voters,” she said. “We have no reason to believe that there are any other ballots that have not yet been counted and included in those official totals.”

“I am confident that every single valid ballot was counted in Wisconsin,” said Wolfe. “There were some really trying circumstances this year. I think we ran an excellent election.”

Wolfe said she didn’t want to respond to Trump’s claims of fraud.

“Elections are such a deliberate, meticulous process … in a public setting,” she said in the news conference. “There’s no opportunity to add additional votes to the tally.” She said it was “insulting to say to our election officials” that the election was “anything but a success.”

There are also some provisional ballots outstanding in unknown numbers, but historically they number fewer than 1,000, she said.

The current vote totals are unofficial. Official results won’t be in until after a canvass on Dec. 1. Counties post unofficial results on their websites on Election Day.

According to a press release from Wolfe, “Wisconsin has never had a statewide system for reporting unofficial results on Election Night, and there is no central official website where results will be reported.”

Wolfe said the canvassing process will “double check” the unofficial results already reported. The official results and winner will be announced at a December 1 meeting. The results being reported right now are numbers based on news gathering by the Associated Press and other news organizations, which get them from county clerks around the state and aggregate them.

“For many decades, the AP has collected unofficial results from county clerks’ offices and distributed totals to its member newspapers and radio and TV stations. In recent years, other news organizations have also begun collecting and reporting unofficial Wisconsin results. Election night declarations of victory are based on predictions and incomplete results. Winners are not official until the results are certified, which by Wisconsin state law happens on December 1,” the release said.

Wisconsin is not a state that allows ballots to be counted if they arrive after Election Day. According to Wolfe, all ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. November 3 to be counted or a voter had to be in line by 8 p.m. There are no late returns allowed in the state of Wisconsin, she said.

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