Wisconsin Recount Laws

This information was updated in August 6th 2018 using the Wisconsin Statutes (WS) updated through 2018.  

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 hand count and retabulation
Counting method chosen by election official

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). Wis. Stat. § 5.90(1) & (2). See also the Wisconsin Elections Commission 2018 recount manual for a description of counting methods.

Initiating Mechanisms: 

Close vote margin
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Close Vote Margin Options: 
Less than or equal to 0.25%
Vote count difference
Varies by number of votes cast
Initiated by request
 

For an election at which there are 4,000 or fewer votes cast, and if the difference between the votes cast for the leading candidate and those cast for the petitioner or the difference between the affirmative and negative votes cast upon any referendum question is less than 10, then the petitioner is not required to pay a fee.   If more than 4,000 votes are cast and the difference is not more than 0.25 percent of the total votes cast for the office or on the question, the petitioner is not required to pay a fee.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(ag)1.

Close-vote-margin recounts must be requested and 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.”  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)(2)(b).

Timing:  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)1

Candidate-Initiated Options : 

Close vote margin required
Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount

If a candidate is not entitled to a taxpayer funded recount as defined in the close-vote-margin section, then the candidate may petition and pay for a recount if the following close-vote margins are met:

For an election at which 4,000 or fewer votes are cast for the office that the candidate seeks, a candidate who trails the leading candidate by no more than 40 votes may petition for a recount.  For an election at which more than 4,000 votes are cast for the office that the candidate seeks, a candidate who trails the leading candidate by no more than 1 percent of the total votes cast for that office may petition for a recount.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)5.

The candidate filing a recount petition may choose to select only a few wards to be included in the recount.  Wis. Stat. § 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. Wis. Stat. § 9.01(4).

Timing:   Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)1 and 9.01(1)(ar)3.

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions 

An elector who voted on a ballot question and is not eligible for a taxpayer-funded recount as defined in the close-vote-margin section, may petition for and assume the cost of a recount for that question. The elector may petition for the recount regardless of the difference between the affirmative and negative votes on the ballot question.  Wis. Stat. § 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.”  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)(2)(b

The elector filing a recount petition may choose to select only a few wards to be included in the recount. Wis. Stat. § 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.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(4).

Timing:  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(a)1

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Paid entirely by initiator

The petitioner shall pay a fee equal to the actual cost of performing the recount in each ward or municipality for which the petition requests a recount, plus the actual cost incurred by the commission to provide services for performing the recount.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(ag)2.

All fees shall be prepaid in cash or another form of payment which is acceptable to the officer to whom they are paid.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(ag)3.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Paid entirely by initiator

The petitioner shall pay a fee equal to the actual cost of performing the recount in each ward or municipality for which the petition requests a recount, plus the actual cost incurred by the commission to provide services for performing the recount.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(ag)2.

All fees shall be prepaid in cash or another form of payment which is acceptable to the officer to whom they are paid. Wis. Stat. § 9.01(ag)3.

Challengers and Observers : 

Statutes specify that recount must be public
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.”  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(1)(b)11. “Interested persons” are allowed to observe a recount.  Wis. Stat. § 9.01(3).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

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

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has a manual designed to provide guidance to election officials in determining voter intent.  The manual that covers partisan primaries can be found here and the manual that covers the spring primary, spring election and general election can be found here

State Has Audit Laws: 
Yes