Recount of Wisconsin ballots could cost almost $8M, officials estimate


Poll worker Mary Madigan processes mail-in absentee ballots the night of Election Day at Milwaukee Central Count in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. November 3, 2020. (REUTERS/Bing Guan)

MADISON, Wis. (WFRV) – A statewide recount of ballots submitted during the November election would cost an estimated $7.9 million, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The estimate comes after Wisconsin’s county clerks submitted their estimates.

“We still have not received any indication that there will or will not be a recount,” says Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief election official.  “But we want Wisconsin’s voters to know we are ready.”

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the recount cost must be paid before any recount can begin.

“Our county clerks have carefully estimated their costs for recounting 3.2 million ballots, which is approximately $7.9 million,” Wolfe says.  “These estimates are significantly higher than the actual costs of the 2016 recount, but they take into account factors not present four years ago, including the need for larger spaces to permit public observation and social distancing, security for those spaces, the higher number of absentee ballots, a compressed timeframe over a holiday, and renting high-speed ballot scanning equipment.”

The Wisconsin Legislature changed state law in 2017 after the 2016 presidential recount to allow the WEC to include its costs in the estimate. Those costs are less than $30,000 of the total estimate.

If the estimated costs exceed actual costs, the candidate’s committee will receive a refund for the difference, Wolfe said. 

WEC says they contacted the presidential campaigns to inform them of the procedures for requesting a recount.

Wolfe also announced the potential timeline, seen below, for a recount, if one is requested.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020 – The last county canvass is received. There are several counties outstanding, and some have indicated they will not be finished before November 17.

Wednesday, November 18 by 5:00 p.m. – The deadline for the aggrieved presidential candidate to file for a recount and submit payment.

Thursday, November 19, 2020 – The Commission Chair issues the Recount Order.  This starts the 13-day recount clock and is also the first day that recount boards can meet.

Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. – The deadline by which county boards of canvassers must convene for the recount (no later than 9:00 a.m. on the third day after the recount order is issued).

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 – The deadline to complete the recount.  This is also the deadline, under Wisconsin law, for WEC to certify results from the General Election.  Therefore, recounts must be completed and results must be filed with WEC by noon on December 1, 2020. 

State law does not account for the many challenges of the calendar, including the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wisconsin, according to WEC, does not have automatic recounts, even if the unofficial results are extremely close.

The second-place candidate must wait to request a recount until after the last county reports its certified results to the state. For presidential recounts, the aggrieved candidate has just one day to file for a recount.

According to unofficial results, the margin of victory between the top two presidential candidates is 20,470 votes, or 0.62%, which makes the race eligible for a recount if the losing candidate wishes to request one. Because the margin is more than 0.25%, the aggrieved candidate must prepay the estimated costs of the recount at the time of requesting it.

County-by-county breakdown of recount cost
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