Donald Trump in Kenosha
President Donald Trump takes the stage in Kenosha the night of Nov. 2, less than 12 hours before polls were set to open in Wisconsin for the presidential election. He lost the state to President-elect Joe Biden. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

The cost estimate is almost four times the cost of the 2016 recount, a reflection of increased costs due to COVID.

If outgoing President Donald Trump is serious about requesting a recount in Wisconsin, his campaign will need to put up $7.9 million before a single ballot is touched.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission released the cost estimate Monday, one day before the final deadline for counties to certify their votes. Once all votes are canvassed and certified, the Trump campaign will have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to formally file for a recount and fork over the $7.9 million.

Trump, in a flurry of empty threats and nonsensical lawsuits filed in different states as he lost them, vowed to request a recount in Wisconsin on Nov. 4, just hours after President-elect Joe Biden was declared the state’s winner. 

Since then, Trump has been calling on his supporters to “stop the steal” and contribute money for legal fees, though an analysis of the fine print by Reuters revealed that only contributions over $8,000 contribute to the legal fund, while anything under that goes to Trump’s new political action committee and the Republican National Committee. That diversion of funds, along with the Trump campaign’s reported money woes, makes it unclear whether the campaign will be able to afford the $7.9 million bill.

Trump is able to request a recount under state law because Biden’s margin of victory is less than 1%. However, Trump’s campaign must pay in advance because the margin is greater than 0.25%. 

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said in a Monday afternoon statement the Trump campaign still hasn’t given the commission any indication if it will follow through on its promise.

This year’s recount cost estimate is more than double the $3.5 million estimate the Elections Commission gave Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016 when her campaign requested a recount; the true cost ended up being just $2 million, Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said during a call with reporters last week.

“Our county clerks have carefully estimated their costs for recounting 3.2 million ballots, which is approximately $7.9 million,” Wolfe said.  “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.”

A recount is unlikely to turn up any substantial changes to the vote totals, and extremely unlikely to result in a shift large enough to flip the state back to Trump. Recounts have historically moved the needle by a few hundred votes at the most.

Even former Gov. Scott Walker, the chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin, has been vocal about the long odds Trump would face with a recount.

If a recount is indeed requested, the Elections Commission says the deadline for it to be completed would be Dec. 1. That is the same day the Elections Commission must by law certify the state’s final results, and just 13 days before the Electoral College will cast its votes.
Almost all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have finished canvassing, and none has turned up significant changes so far. As of last Thursday, there were also no reports of fraud discovered through the canvassing process.