Rather than request a statewide recount, Trump’s team filed a petition Wednesday to the Wisconsin Elections Commission to recount votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties — the state’s two most populous and racially diverse counties, which both voted heavily for President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden currently leads Trump by over 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, according to Decision Desk HQ. His lead is too wide to trigger an automatic recount, which occurs if the candidates finish within 0.25% of the total vote. Campaigns can still request a recount but have to pay for it themselves — and only get reimbursed if the election results are reversed. A full statewide recount would have cost nearly $8 million.
Recounts typically only shift 0.001% of ballots cast, according to Charles Seife, author of Proofness: How You’re Being Fooled by the Numbers. Wiping away a lead of 20,000 votes would be unprecedented. Former Republican governor Scott Walker noted on Twitter that a previous statewide recount in Wisconsin only shifted a few hundred votes. “20,000 is a high hurdle,” he tweeted.
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Dane County voted 76% for Biden versus 23% for Trump, per the county clerk’s office. Milwaukee County voted 69% for Biden and 29% for Trump, according to its clerk’s office. In total, 803,680 ballots were cast in the presidential race between both counties.
A recount order could be issued as early as Thursday. At that point, the state would have 13 days to conduct it. The results must be reported by noon on Tuesday, Dec. 1, which is also the deadline under Wisconsin law for the election commission to certify the results of the election.
Even if Trump’s lawyers were successful in flipping Wisconsin, it would bring Joe Biden’s Electoral College total down to 296 — still well above the 270 needed to win the presidency. Georgia is also conducting a recount, though Trump has angrily denounced it as “a joke” because it is not going as he had hoped. Even flipping Georgia on top of Wisconsin would not be enough to swing the presidency to Trump.
Since losing the election, Trump launched a messaging blitz insisting he was cheated by widespread voter fraud. But in court his lawyers have consistently failed to show any evidence of such fraud. They have suffered loss after loss and failed to make a dent in the vote count in any state.
In their application to the Wisconsin Election Commission, Trump’s lawyers are also seeking to throw out tens of thousands of votes. Trump’s lawyers argue that clerks throughout the state acted illegally when they went through a process known as “curing” ballots by adding missing address information to returned absentee ballot envelopes.
Since 2016, Wisconsin has directed its poll workers to take reasonable steps to correct absentee ballots missing whole or partial addresses if they have reliable information to add it. This could include using personal knowledge, looking the address up in a voter registration database, or calling the voter.
The Trump campaign alleges this guidance is illegal, though it reportedly has not been challenged in 11 statewide elections since then, including Trump's first presidential win. His campaign is now seeking for ballots “cured” by election workers to be thrown out.
The campaign also alleges that it was illegal for county clerks to send absentee ballots unless one was formally requested by a voter, and it is asking for any such votes to be thrown out. The campaign claims that more than 60,000 votes in Milwaukee County alone should be thrown out on these grounds.
Milwaukee and Dane counties were the strongest Biden-leaning counties in the state — with the exception of Menominee County, but there were fewer than 1,600 votes cast there in total, according to Decision Desk HQ. They are also the most populous counties in the state, containing the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, respectively.
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The two counties contain the majority of the state’s Black population, according to US Census Bureau data. In Milwaukee County, Black people make up 27% of the county’s total population, while Hispanic or Latino people make up 16%. Black and Latino people each make up just 7% of the statewide population.
Three Wisconsin voters had sued in federal court last week to invalidate the election results in Milwaukee, Dane, and Menominee counties, alleging voter fraud and echoing the Trump campaign's argument that the state election commission's directive to fix addresses on absentee ballot envelopes was illegal. On Monday, the voters filed for voluntary dismissal and the judge dismissed the case.
Despite having no realistic shot of overturning the election results, Trump has continued to insist, without evidence, that he is the true victor. “I WON THE ELECTION. VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY,” he tweeted in one of a string of tweets Wednesday.