Wisconsin Recount Laws

This information was updated in July 2014 using the Wisconsin Statutes (WS) updated through 2013 Wisconsin Act 380.  

All subsections below, unless otherwise noted, are from the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 9, “Post-Election Actions; Direct Legislation,” Section 9.01, “Recounts.” This chapter is available as a PDF here.

Voting System Used: 

Mixed paper ballot and DREs with VVPAT

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount and retabulation
Counting method chosen by initiator

Recount initiators may petition the court for a recount to be conducted by hand, though the law specifies that the burden of proof is on the petitioner to demonstrate why a hand count should be enforced. However, the board of canvassers may, at their discretion, chose to conduct a recount by hand. The default counting method for hand counted paper ballots and for optically scanned ballots is the same as the method used in the initial canvass: paper ballots are recounted by hand; optical scan ballots are retabulated on an automatic tabulator. Votes cast on direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) are recounted by detaching, and counting by hand, the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). See WS 5.90(1) & (2). See also Wisconsin's Election Recount Proceduremanual for a description of counting methods. 

The Election Recount Procedures manual is supplemented by the 2014 Recount Plan.  Where the Recount Plan conflicts with the Election Recount Procedures manual, the Recount Plan controls.

Initiating Mechanism: 

Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount

Any candidate at any election may petition for a recount. See WS 9.01(1)(a)1. The petitioner is required to state that “a mistake or fraud has been committed…or that another specified defect, irregularity, or illegality occurred in the conduct of the election.” See WS 9.01(1)(2)(b).  

The candidate filing a recount petition may choose to select only a few wards to be included in the recount. See WS 9.01(1)(a)3. If the recount is not a complete recount, the opposing candidate, or any voter or other interested party has the right to request a recount in any or all of the  remaining wards. See WS 9.01(4).

Timing: See  WS 9.01(1)(a)1 and 9.01(1)(a)3. For the timing requirements related to the right to a complete recount after a partial recount see WS 9.01(4).

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions 

Any elector who voted on a given question in any election may petition for a recount for that question. See WS 9.01(1)(a)1. The petitioner is required to state that “a mistake or fraud has been committed…or that another specified defect, irregularity, or illegality occurred in the conduct of the election.” See WS 9.01(1)(2)(b).

The elector filing a recount petition may choose to select only a few wards to be included in the recount. See WS 9.01(1)(a)3. If the recount is not a complete recount, any voter or other interested party may petition for a recount in any or all of the remaining wards. See WS 9.01(4).

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Paid entirely by initiator

The cost paid by the recount initiator varies depending on the vote margin between the apparent winning candidate and the recount initiator, as well as the size of the election. For elections where 1,000 or fewer votes are cast, if the margin is less than ten votes, the initiator does not pay a fee; if the margin is at least ten votes, the initiator pays $5 per ward. For elections where more than 1,000 votes are cast, if the margin is not more than .5%, the initiator does not pay a fee; if it is between 0.5 and 2.0%, the fee is $5 per ward; and if it is greater than 2%, they pay the entire cost of the recount.  See WS 9.01(1)(ag)1, (1m) and (2).  According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, when a candidate petitions to recount the remaining wards or municipalities in a jurisdiction (under WS 9.01(4)), the petitioner pays the costs associated with this recounting.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Paid entirely by initiator

The cost paid by the recount initiator varies depending on the vote margin between the affirmative and negative sides of the question to be recounted, as well as the size of the election. The cost paid by the recount initiator varies depending on the vote margin between the apparent winning candidate and the recount initiator, as well as the size of the election. For elections where 1,000 or fewer votes are cast, if the margin is less than ten votes, the initiator does not pay a fee; if the margin is at least ten votes, the initiator pays $5 per ward. For elections where more than 1,000 votes are cast, if the margin is not more than .5%, the initiator does not pay a fee; if it is between 0.5 and 2.0%, the fee is $5 per ward; and if it is greater than 2%, they pay the entire cost of the recount. . See WS 9.01 (1)(ag)1, (1m) and (2).  According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, when a voter or other interested party petitions to recount  the remaining wards or municipalities in a jurisdiction (under WS 9.01(4)), the petitioner pays the costs associated with this recounting.

Challengers and Observers: 

Statutes specify that recount must be public
Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint observers
Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint challengers

“All steps of the recount shall be performed publicly.”  “The candidates, the person demanding the recount and their authorized representatives and counsel may object to the counting of any ballot.” See WS 9.01(1)(b)11. “Interested persons” are also allowed to observe a recount. See WS 9.01(3).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided
Secretary of State or Election Board responsible for defining intent

The Government Accountability Board is tasked with developing standards for recounts, including determining voter intent. The Board has developed a manual on “Counting Votes” that is available as pages 11-18 of the appendix to the Election Recount Procedures  manual. This manual interprets WS 7.50(2), which sets forth statutory guidance on voter intent.