Wisconsin Recount Looming After Joe Biden’s Narrow Victory: Here’s What State Laws Say Will Happen

A man puts his head in his hands while counting ballots.
Elaine Cromie / Getty Images

Donald Trump and his campaign have reportedly requested a recount in Wisconsin following his narrow loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. A manual on Wisconsin’s recount laws, published on the state’s official website, gives insight into what the country can expect in the days and weeks ahead.

A recount is not automatic but can be requested within 72 hours of election day — with presidential elections the sole exception; they must be requested the day after. Recounts are required to be completed within 13 days of the order. Partial recounts are also allowed, meaning that specific counties are targeted versus a statewide process.

Approval will be given for a recount if the margin is less than 1 percent in a race with more than 4,000 votes. Currently, the president is within that margin, with the tally standing at 49.4 percent to Biden and 48.8 percent to Trump. The difference comes to around 20,510 votes, though a few ballots still need to be counted and can change the final result.

The state bears the cost for a recount should the gap be less than one-fourth of a percentage point. Since the margin is currently 0.6 percent, the president’s campaign will shoulder the cost. Fundraising efforts have been underway since Wednesday morning.

Candidates also have the right to appeal the recounted result in court. In this scenario, a legal filing relating to a federal office — like the presidency — must be served within five business days to both the circuit court and the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

A man holds ballot boxes.
  Elaine Cromie / Getty Images

Though the operation may sound complicated, it is not the first time that the state has recounted ballots; in fact, the process was completed back in 2016 following the former New York businessman’s shock victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The request was made by Jill Stein, a third party candidate. The recount found that Clinton earned an additional 713 votes, while Trump gained 844, per The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Though polling officials praised the operation, Stein voiced concern at the time that a portion of recounted ballots were being processed by machines instead of by hand. It is not known whether that policy has changed; however, authorities have noted that any voting machines used in a recount are different and more precise than the ones used on Election Day.

That said, the president’s team appears to be hedging more on a recount unearthing potential voter fraud than accidental miscounts.

“Despite ridiculous public polling used as a voter suppression tactic, Wisconsin has been a razor thin race as we always knew that it would be. There have been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results,” wrote 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien in a press release.