Donald Trump

Trump Campaign Requests Partial Wisconsin Recount, Deposits $3 Million to Challenge Biden Victory

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump's reelection campaign requested a partial recount in Wisconsin to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory there.
  • The campaign wired $3 million to Wisconsin election officials to cover the cost of the recount request.
  • Legal analysts give Trump little hope of overturning Biden's win nationally, through either recounts or lawsuits.

President Donald Trump's reelection campaign on Wednesday filed for a partial recount in Wisconsin to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the state.

The campaign wired $3 million to Wisconsin election officials to cover the cost of the recount request, which officials are expected to approve and order Thursday.

Trump's campaign said in a statement that it is requesting recounts in two heavily Democratic counties: Milwaukee, which includes the city of Milwaukee, and Dane, which contains the state's capital of Madison.

The campaign claimed "illegal" voting activity was carried out by Wisconsin election officials, without providing evidence of any widespread problems that could upend Biden's more than 20,000-vote lead.

A Biden campaign spokesman for Wisconsin said in a statement that the official canvass results "reaffirmed Joe Biden's clear and resounding win" in the state, adding, "A cherry-picked and selective recounting of Milwaukee and Dane County will not change these results."

"Election officials worked extremely hard under unprecedented circumstances to ensure all votes were counted quickly and accurately, and the recount demanded and paid for by the Trump campaign will once again confirm Joe Biden's victory," spokesman Nate Evans said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission received verified vote results from all 72 of the state's counties on Tuesday. The deadline for requesting a recount was 5 p.m. Wednesday. The recount needs to be completed before the chair of the state's elections commission certifies the results on Dec. 1.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin's top elections official, Meagan Wolfe, said the recount request had been filed in person and "appears, upon facial review, to meet all of the requirements in pairing with the payment that was received late yesterday."

"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks," Wolfe said. "We remain committed to providing information about the process and assisting our county clerks by providing facts on the mechanics of a recount and status updates." 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the partial recount. The chair of the agency will issue the recount order on Thursday, starting a 13-day window to complete it.

Biden won 49.5% of the ballots cast in Wisconsin, compared with 48.8% for Trump. The Republican incumbent had won the state in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point over Hillary Clinton.

Milwaukee and Dane are the two most populous counties in Wisconsin. Biden is ahead of Trump by about 180,000 votes in Milwaukee, and by approximately the same number of ballots in Dane. In Milwaukee, Biden won 75.5% of the ballots cast, and in Dane won more than 69% of the ballots.

Both counties have larger minority populations than the state overall, according to U.S. Census data from 2019. More than 27% of Milwaukee County's population is Black, compared with less than 7% statewide.

By requesting recounts solely in those two counties, the Trump campaign avoids paying an estimated $7.9 million that would have been required for a statewide recount. Trump also avoids recounting in the more than 60 counties in Wisconsin that he won, possibly reducing his ballot tally overall.

The campaign claimed in its statement Wednesday that "these two counties were selected because they are the locations of the worst irregularities."

Absentee ballots were "illegally altered" and "illegally issued" by elections officials, who also allegedly offered "illegal advice" to voters, the campaign's statement said.

"The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way. Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements. We will not know the true results of the election until only the legal ballots cast are counted," said Jim Troupis, counsel to the campaign.

"We will not stop fighting for transparency and integrity in our electoral process to ensure that all Americans can trust the results of a free and fair election in Wisconsin and across the country," Troupis said.

The Trump campaign has filed numerous lawsuits in the key states that propelled Biden to victory, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada.

On Monday, plaintiffs aligned with Trump in four states, including Wisconsin, dropped their lawsuits challenging ballots seen as giving Biden his margin of victory in those locales.

The dismissals of the cases all involved plaintiffs represented by lawyer James Bopp and the conservative group True the Vote. In addition to Wisconsin, the other states were Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

So far, those court efforts have failed to overturn the results, and legal analysts say Trump has little if any hope of doing so, both because of the number of states he would need to reverse the results in, and because of the number of ballots that would need to be invalidated.

Biden's campaign and elections officials have said there was not widespread illegal voting, much less levels of such improper voting that made a difference in any single state.

Brian Rothgery, a spokesman with Milwaukee County, told NBC that the county is "very well prepared" for this recount. 

Milwaukee County will begin counting Friday if the official recount order is submitted from the Wisconsin Elections Commission by Thursday.

The county estimates that some municipalities will be complete within one day, with the city of Milwaukee taking no longer than six days to complete its count.

A Biden campaign official noted to NBC that Trump had complained in 2016 after then-Green Party nominee Jill Stein pushed for a recount in Wisconsin.

"The people have spoken and the election is over," Trump said at that time.

In the wake of that recount, Trump gained just 131 additional votes from the initial total.

In the 2020 contest, even Trump's Republican allies have said that the campaign has little chance of overturning Biden's lead in Wisconsin.

Scott Walker, the state's former governor, tweeted on Nov. 4 that closing a 20,000-vote gap through a recount is a "high hurdle."

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