Trump campaign would have to pay nearly $8 million for Wisconsin recount

MADISON – President Donald Trump’s campaign would have to pay nearly $8 million to start a recount in Wisconsin, a state he narrowly lost two weeks ago.

Trump will have to decide by Wednesday whether to carry through with the recount he has promised to pursue.

If his campaign pays the $7.9 million cost up front, the recount will begin as soon as Thursday and be complete by Dec. 1, according to the state Elections Commission. 

Trump has been furiously fundraising for the Wisconsin recount and legal challenges in other states to try to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. If he doesn’t go ahead with the Wisconsin recount, he can use the money he’s raised for other purposes, such as retiring his campaign debt.

The price tag for the Wisconsin recount is nearly four times as much as a recount in 2016. That year, the campaign of Green Party candidate Jill Stein had to pay just over $2 million for the recount it had requested.

A recount would be so much more costly this year in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Meagan Wolfe, the director of the state Elections Commission. Some counties would need to rent large halls to conduct the recount so they could keep workers and observers distanced from one another. 

Also driving up the cost are a short time frame and increased security needs, Wolfe said.

“We still have not received any indication that there will or will not be a recount,” Wolfe said in a statement. “But we want Wisconsin’s voters to know we are ready.”

To save money, Trump could narrow his request and seek a recount in just a handful of counties instead of all 72 of them. Trump campaign spokeswoman Anna Kelly did not immediately react to the state’s cost estimates. 

Counties are completing their canvasses of the vote now and the last counties are expected to finish them Tuesday. So far, those canvasses have differed little from the initial, unofficial results that showed Biden winning the state by about 20,000 votes.

Milwaukee County completed its canvass on Monday; Biden gained 19 votes and Trump gained two votes in the tally it submitted to the state. 

If Trump requests the recount, the commission’s chairwoman, Ann Jacobs, on Thursday will issue a formal order for counties to start their recounts. They will have to begin by Saturday at the latest.

They will have to complete their work by Dec. 1. That’s the same day the commission is required to certify the state’s presidential results. 

Stein was able to force a recount in 2016 even though she had claimed just a tiny sliver of the vote that year. The recount resulted in a net change of 131 votes, upholding Trump’s win that year over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a margin of about 22,000 votes. 

In response to the recount, Republican lawmakers overhauled the state’s recount law so that only a candidate who narrowly lost could seek a recount. 

Under that revised law, recounts can be held only if the winning margin was 1 percentage point or less. The state covers the cost if the margin is less than 0.25 points. The losing candidate must pay for it if it is more than that. 

Trump lost by about 0.6 percentage points, according to unofficial returns.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.