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Trump wants a recount in Wisconsin. How would that work?

November 5, 2020, 1:37 AM UTC

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President Trump’s campaign stated on Wednesday that it plans to request a recount in the state of Wisconsin, which major news outlets have called in favor of his opponent Joe Biden.

A recount can—in theory at least—change the outcome of a presidential race if the new count leads to a state’s electoral votes being awarded to a different candidate. But, while recounts are fairly common, they almost never affect the outcome of elections at any level.

If you’re curious about Trump’s particular recount demand, and what it will mean, here is a plain English Q&A.

What type of recount is Trump asking for?

Trump’s campaign manager claimed without evidence on Wednesday that there have been reports of voting irregularities in Wisconsin and that the President would request a recount.

Under Wisconsin law, candidates have the right to request a recount if the margin of victory is under 1%. Current returns show Biden leading by 20,000 votes, which would appear to fall within that margin. Wisconsin law allows a candidate in these situations to request a recount of the whole state’s vote or just individual counties. The Trump campaign hasn’t indicated if it will demand its Wisconsin recount to be statewide.

Will a recount change the outcome in Wisconsin?

It’s all but certain it won’t. Wisconsin was also the subject of a recount demand in 2016 filed by a third-party candidate. The recount saw a total of 131 additional votes being added to the total of President Trump—an all but insignificant amount given Trump’s initial lead of more than 20,000 votes. Given that Biden’s lead is about the same, it’s hard to see how a recount could change the outcome.

Can Trump ask for recounts in other states?

Possibly, but it’s unclear if he will. While the laws of certain states require an automatic recount in the case of a very close race, others allow a recount if a candidate requests one. In some cases, candidates must go to court to demand a recount.

Election site Ballotpedia is a helpful place to find the recount rules for individual states, including other battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. For now, however, the Trump campaign hasn’t said it will pursue a recount outside of Wisconsin—and it’s unclear for now if the margins in those states will be close enough to justify a recount demand.

Who pays for the cost of a recount?

It depends on the state and the tightness of the race. In some cases, the state will foot the bill if the outcome is exceptionally close. In others, the candidate challenging the vote count must pay—as happened in 2016 when Wisconsin required the third-party candidate to pay $3.5 million. Such rules may explain, in part, why the Trump campaign has yet to request recounts in other states.