Trump campaign wants a Wisconsin recount. But how would it work?

Wisconsin officials are defending the voting process, saying the president’s claim of irregularities is ‘insulting’.

Bags containing ballots from precincts are pictured after Election Day at the Kenosha Municipal Building, Wisconsin, US, November 4, 2020 [Daniel Acker/Reuters] (Reuters)

Kenosha, Wisconsin, US – Though election officials in the swing state of Wisconsin have not released a final tally in the United States presidential elections, President Donald Trump’s campaign has already signalled it plans to ask for a recount.

Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said in a statement on Wednesday that “reports of irregularities in several counties Wisconsin countries … raise serious doubts about the validity of the results”.

Stepien did not say what reports he was referring to or provide additional details to back up his unproven claims, but he said the Trump campaign “is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so”.

Since it became clear that no winner would be announced on Election Day in the tightly contested presidential contest, Trump has sowed doubt about the results in several key states where ballot counting is still under way, including Wisconsin.

The Associated Press news agency, at about 19:25 GMT on Wednesday, called the state in favour of Joe Biden, giving him Wisconsin’s critical 10 electoral votes.

Voters wait in line outside a polling centre on Election Day in Kenosha [Wong Maye-E/AP]

Earlier in the day, Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief election official, defended the state’s election procedures during a scheduled briefing.

“There is no opportunity to count a ballot that did not go through [the state’s] incredibly meticulous process to make sure ballots are issued and counted correctly,” she said.

“I think it’s insulting to our local election officials to say that … yesterday’s election was anything but an incredible success and the result of years of preparation and meticulously, carefully following the law.”

2016 recount, too

It would not be the first time that Wisconsin goes through a full recount.

Third-party presidential candidate Jill Stein requested a full recount in the state during the last elections in 2016. That process eventually confirmed that the initial vote was accurate, and it did not change things meaningfully.

The law has been modified somewhat since then to disallow third-party candidates from calling for a recount in the state.

But Wisconsin state law still allows a second-place candidate to request a recount if there is a difference of 1 percent or less in the official results.

Stephanie Soucek, chair of the Republican Party of Door County in eastern Wisconsin, told Al Jazeera that Trump anticipating a recount demonstrates that the president “knows how important this election is”.

“I think he’s just kind of wanting to get on that right away. We’ll see once everything is official of course how things move forward,” Soucek said.

I think it's insulting to our local election officials to say that ... yesterday's election was anything but an incredible success and the result of years of preparation and meticulously, carefully following the law

by Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official

Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said earlier on Wednesday that Trump appeared to be trailing Biden by about 22,000 to 23,000 votes in the state, which would amount to less than one percentage point.

“State law would allow his campaign to call for a recount. The standard is a 1 percent margin, but his campaign would need to pay for that and would likely cost several million dollars,” Burden told Al Jazeera.

The fees are waived off if the difference in votes is 0.25 percent or less.

Lengthy process

Currently, all of the state’s results are unofficial and the Trump campaign cannot officially ask for a recount until the state’s lengthy vote certification process is completed.

Wisconsin follows a multitiered “canvassing” process to certify its election results, starting at the municipal level.

After double-checking last night’s unofficial results, municipalities are required to begin sending their certified results to county officials. Once all of the municipal results are received, the counties then engage in their own double-checking process.

The Trump campaign cannot officially ask for a recount until Wisconsin’s lengthy vote certification process is completed [Daniel Acker/Reuters]

Just like in the municipalities, counties are required to publicly alert their respective Board of Canvassers when their certification process would begin.

Each county’s board then must meet by 9am local time (15:00 GMT) on November 10 to begin certifying the results, a process that must conclude by November 17.

The chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has until December 1 to certify the official results of the county.

Burden said when a full recount was ordered in 2016, officials representing the various campaigns were in the room to watch – and if necessary, make challenges – as each county’s canvassing board readded the election results.

“I think probably both Trump and Biden campaigns have something lined up if something like that needs to happen,” Burden said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic raises questions about how that would work this time around.

Wisconsin reported a record high of new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, with the state’s Department of Health Services saying 5,935 new cases were recorded in 24 hours – for a total of 244,002 since the pandemic began.

The department also reported 54 additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 2,156 since the start of the crisis.

“I think one ambiguity is how this would work in a pandemic period,” said Burden, about the recount process. “You wouldn’t want to do it online. I think the observers would want to be in the room to physically see the ballots if they’re going to raise questions about them.”

Source: Al Jazeera