More Insights On A Possible Wisconsin Recount

Nov 13, 2020

Unofficial results show President-elect Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes. The official numbers are not yet in. Once results are certified at the county level, President Donald Trump’s campaign can announce whether it will pursue a recount.

Wisconsin’s 1,850 cities, towns and villages have already certified election results at the local level. So, right now, the state’s counties are double-checking the numbers, says the state’s top election official, Meagan Wolfe. It’s a process called “canvassing.” 

“They're looking to see that they have the same number of ballots issued as voter signatures in the poll book and absentee requests. This is also a check to make sure that everyone was registered to vote, you can only be issued a ballot. If you're registered to vote, and you appear on the poll book," Wolfe explains.

Fifty-five of the state’s 72 counties are already done. But some are expected to work up to the Nov. 17 deadline. Then, Trump can request a recount if he is within one percentage point Biden — as he is right now in the unofficial tally. Last week, Trump’s campaign expressed interest in a recount.

Wolfe says the deadline to request one would be No. 18 at 5 p.m.

She explains how it would work: "A recount in a lot of ways is like a canvas, it's really a double check on the process. It's where you're making sure that you have the correct number of registrations, the correct number of signatures in the poll book, the correct number of ballots that have been issued, it's also where you make sure that the equipment has counted everything correctly.”

Jurisdictions can recount by hand or use voting equipment.

But there’s one key difference between a canvas and a recount. “During the canvas, you have to keep all the ballot bags and things actually sealed. So the bags that have the actual ballots in them, those remain sealed. During a recount, of course, you're opening those to double-check everything, to make sure that not only do you have enough signatures as ballots issued, and registrations, but you're also re-tallying all of those ballots," Wolfe explains.

The Trump campaign could choose it wants a statewide recount or just in specific counties, municipalities or jurisdictions. If the difference between Biden and Trump is greater than a quarter percent, the Trump campaign would have to pay for the recount. The money is due up front — before the process begins.

In 2016, when the Green Party paid for a recount of the presidential race in Wisconsin, the final cost ended up being about $2 million dollars.

Wolfe says she wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s is more because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You know, let's say that a county has to move their recounts to an arena or some larger space, so that they can spread out and accommodate observers, they're also gonna have to think about things like security, if they're in their county building conducting a recount, they have double lock rooms, where they're able to secure materials overnight," she says.

Wolfe says there’s also the cost of PPE, and even holiday pay because the recount would actually be conducted over Thanksgiving.

And, counties would have 13 days to complete the recount. And just like on Election Day, a recount is public, so anybody could observe.

Wolfe urges people who don’t have faith in the election process to participate. "To seek out more information from sources like your local election official or your state election official, and to get involved in the process to observe the canvass, if there's a recount to observe the recount, and to learn about how elections work," she says. "And if you see issues with the process, if you see things that you don't like about the process, to ask, 'Why is that process there?' And usually, the answer is, that's what the law says.”

Once the county canvass is complete and any additional recount is done, the state will have to certify the results.