President Donald Trump will have to pay $7.9 million if he wants a statewide recount of unofficial results in Wisconsin showing him losing to Democrat Joe Biden by about 20,500 votes.
That is four times higher than what the recount cost four years ago, a cost increase that elections officials said was driven by expenses related to conducting a recount during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission released the estimate on Monday, which was based on costs submitted by the 72 counties. The recount could begin as soon as Thursday and be done no later than Dec. 1.
“We still have not received any indication that there will or will not be a recount,” said Meagan Wolfe, the state's chief election official. “But we want Wisconsin’s voters to know we are ready.”
Trump has made unfounded claims of voting irregularities and fraud, even though Wisconsin elections officials have said there were no irregularities or widespread problems reported. Trump has been raising money off the expected recount and has indicated that he will move ahead with it, even though Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes would not be enough to change the outcome of the race.
Trump’s Wisconsin campaign spokeswoman Anna Kelly did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the estimated cost.
Recounts are not automatic under Wisconsin law. But any losing candidate who is within 1 point of the winner can request one. Trump lost by about six-tenths of a point, based on unofficial results. Candidates must pay for recounts if they are more than 0.25 points behind the winner.
Counties had until Tuesday to certify the election results. Assuming the last county canvass isn't filed until Tuesday as expected, Trump would then have until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to request the recount.
As of midday Monday, 68 of 72 counties had completed certification of the vote. Those results, which include provisional ballots that were counted after Election Day, show that Biden picked up 122 votes and Trump gained 107 statewide so far. The net gain was 15 for Biden.
A timeline for the recount issued by the state elections commission said that the order to start it could be issued on Thursday. Counties would have until Saturday to begin the recount, which would have to be done by noon on Dec. 1.
In 2016, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein paid $3.5 million in advance for the recount. It ended up costing $2 million, and she was refunded $1.5 million.
Trump could also be refunded some of the cost if the estimate is too high. He could also decide to pursue a recount only in some counties, which would also reduce costs.
Wolfe said the higher cost this year was due to factors caused by the pandemic that weren't an issue then, such as needing larger spaces to permit public observation and social distancing, security for those spaces, the higher number of absentee ballots, a compressed timeframe over the Thanksgiving holiday, and renting high-speed ballot scanning equipment.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the recount would cost $740,000 and take place at the Monona Terrace convention center, located just down the street from the city-county building. Renting that space, which allows for more distancing between workers, cost $88,500, McDonell said.
Milwaukee County had the highest estimated cost at just over $2 million. Of that, $649,600 was for space rental to do that recount.
The state elections commission, which is also allowed to charge for recount costs, estimated its expenses at $30,000.
Separately Monday, three voters who filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to exclude some ballots in Milwaukee, Dane and Menominee counties withdraw their lawsuit. Attorney James Bopp said he could not say why because of attorney-client privilege. The voters had alleged widespread fraud in absentee balloting.