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Trump already wants a recount in Wisconsin, but his odds of winning it are very small

It could take weeks for the Trump campaign to get a recount, and even then, chances are slim that the result would change.

An election official caries a US Postal Service bin containing absentee ballots.
Wisconsin election officials count absentee ballots. They’ll be counting all over again if Trump successfully requests a recount.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Sara Morrison is a senior Vox reporter who has covered data privacy, antitrust, and Big Tech’s power over us all for the site since 2019.

Wisconsin is once again at the center of a tight presidential race, and the winner of its 10 electoral college votes will likely be by the slimmest of margins. By Wednesday afternoon, Joe Biden was ahead by roughly 20,000 votes, and the state’s chief elections official Meagan Wolfe said that almost all votes have been counted, save roughly 300 votes from a small town. That means many are preparing for the possibility of a recount in this must-win state.

But a recount is not a certainty in Wisconsin. Unlike some states, where recounts are automatic if the margin of victory is within a certain threshold, trailing candidates must request a recount in Wisconsin, and they can only do so if the margin is less than 1 percentage point. Currently, Trump is within that margin, and his campaign has already expressed its intention to petition for a recount as soon as possible.

The Trump campaign would have to pay for the recount, assuming Biden’s margin of victory is greater than 0.25 percentage points, as is the case with the current estimate.

We’ve seen how presidential race recounts work in Wisconsin as recently as the last election, when President Trump won Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes. The state was the subject of a recount then, but this was requested by third-party candidate Jill Stein. Wisconsin would later change its recount rules so that only the candidate whose loss was within the margin could request a recount.

By the time Stein’s request went through in 2016, Hillary Clinton had already conceded the race to Trump. So when all was said and done, Trump simply picked up a few more votes in the recount, very slightly increasing his margin of victory.

As Republican and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker explained on Wednesday, it could be very difficult for Trump to overcome the 20,000-vote difference.

Lest the Biden campaign get too confident, Walker also pointed out that there’s always the possibility of a major reporting error, and urged both camps to wait for official results before declaring victory.

While, again, the Trump camp has signaled its intention to petition for a recount, it will have to wait for the official results to come in before it can request one. Although winners and losers may be declared in the hours after polls close, the official results take a while longer to be tabulated and certified. In Wisconsin, that is not expected until December 1. So if your hopes are resting on Trump winning Wisconsin’s recount, you’re going to be waiting a long time.

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