Skip to content

Wisconsin Election Recounts Demonstrate Transparent, Fair Process

February 16, 2021

After the presidential election recounts in two Wisconsin counties were completed in late November 2020, officials praised the quality of the recount efforts.

According to unofficial election results, the margin of victory between the two presidential candidates was 20,470 votes, or 0.62 percent, which made the race eligible for a recount if requested.

After his county’s recount came to an end, Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the recount demonstrated that elections in the county are fair, transparent, accurate and secure.

I promised that this would be a transparent and fair process, and it was.

“I promised that this would be a transparent and fair process, and it was,” Christenson said. “There was an examination of every ballot by election workers, a meticulous recounting of every ballot that was properly cast, a transparent process that allowed the public to observe, a fair process that allows the aggrieved candidate who sought the recount an opportunity to observe and object to ballots they believe should not be counted.”

Milwaukee County conducted its recount using seven DS850® high-speed scanners and tabulators, while Dane County used two DS850s and one DS450® high-throughput scanner and tabulator. Overall, the scanners ran smoothly and efficiently throughout the weeklong recount efforts in each county. In Milwaukee County, they were able to process about 150,000 ballots on the first day of the recount alone.

ES&S Account Manager Kyle Weber said that the recount was a high-pressure environment as expected, where teams of lawyers and observers from each campaign closely monitored the work being done. Weber and about a dozen ES&S team members were there alongside election officials, their teams and poll workers, demonstrating transparency and efficiency.

“If a ballot wouldn’t run through the scanner because it was damaged or voter intent was unclear, the county was able to show it to observers and discuss it,” he said. “If the representatives agreed upon how it should be counted, the ballot could be addressed right then and there. If they couldn’t agree, the ballot went to the Board of Canvassers to determine voter intent for how it would be counted.”

Weber praised the ES&S team for stepping up to help support both counties’ recount process, all while working under the pressure of the recount deadline and the growing number of COVID-19 cases in those counties during that time. “When you have a team with the mindset of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, it makes it a lot easier to succeed, especially when staring down a difficult task,” Weber said. “The fact that everyone was willing to help and is so dedicated to a job outside of their typical responsibilities is just one example of what makes ES&S so great.”

How Does an Election Recount Work?

The election recount process involves re-tabulating votes that were cast in an election to verify the accuracy of the original results. A recount may be done if there is a close margin of victory, accusations of election fraud or the possibility of administrative error. Other facts:

  • A recount can occur automatically or by request of the candidate or voters.
  • Recounts can happen in races of any level.
  • Recount laws and procedures vary by state.

Recount Laws in Wisconsin

A recount for a presidential election in Wisconsin must be requested on the first business day following the canvass, according to Ballotpedia, the digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections. The margin required is 40 votes in a race with fewer than 4,000 votes or 1 percent in a race with more than 4,000 votes. The recount must be completed within 13 days of the order.

The margin of victory will determine who pays for a requested recount. In the case of a presidential election recount, the state will pay for a recount where the margin is less than or equal to 0.25 percent of the total vote for elections where more than 4,000 votes are cast. According to unofficial results, Joe Biden led President Donald Trump by 20,470 votes, or 0.62 percent. As Biden’s winning margin was larger than 0.25 percent, state law requires that the requester pays for a recount.

Note: Of the more than 800,000 ballots that were recounted in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, there was only a net change of 87 votes. No changes were due to machine tabulation.