Recount Manual



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Procedures to request and conduct a recount for an election or referendum


Elections are often decided by a few votes. In many cases they are decided by one or two votes out of the several hundred or even several thousand votes that are cast. An election may even end in a tie vote. These circumstances encourage a candidate, typically the one who loses the election, to have all the ballots counted again to assure all legal votes are counted properly, any illegal votes are not counted, and the proper procedures for conducting the election were followed by the election officials.

The process of counting the ballots again is known as a recount. There is no automatic recount.  The procedures for requesting and conducting a recount are spelled out in the election laws. A recount is the exclusive remedy to test in court the right of a candidate to hold office based on the number of votes cast at an election.

This manual explains the statutory requirements for requesting a recount, attempts to explain ambiguity in those statutes, expands on the statutory requirements with recommended procedures for conducting a recount, and contains sample forms for use during the recount.

This information is prepared by the Wisconsin Elections Commission pursuant to the requirements of Wis. Stat. §9.01(10). If you have any questions about the recount process, please contact the Commission staff through any of the methods below:

Phone: 608-261-2028
Toll Free: 866-VOTE-WIS
Fax: 608-267-0500
Email: [email protected]

Recount Updates to Clerks

Presidential Preference Cost Data and Unofficial Attorney General Recount Margin
Webinar: The Three Rs: Recounts, Recalls & Referenda
WEC Recount Hours for Saturday April 7, 2018
Six Revised Manuals: Recount and Others
2017 Wisconsin Act 120 – Recount Legislation
Statewide Recount Update #5: Recount Progress, Finalization Checklist and Reimbursement Request Form
Photo ID/Sign-In Log not required for Recount Observers
Statewide Recount for President of the United States Update #4
Recount Order: Statewide Recount for President of the United States
Statewide Recount for President of the United States Update #3
Likely Statewide Recount for President of the United States- Communication #2
Likely Statewide Recount for President of the United States
G.A.B. Staff Availability for Recount Questions April 6-7, 2013
Review of Minutes from the Recount of the State Supreme Court Justice Election
UPDATE #14: Recount of Justice of the Supreme Court Contest Complete -- The Statewide Recount Decision will not be Appealed
UPDATE #13: Retain April 5 Election Materials from Recount until Further Notice
UPDATE #12: Recount Reminders
UPDATE #11: Recount Reminders
UPDATE #10: Recount Reminders
Guidance on Revising Voter Participation Data in SVRS/GAB-190 after the Recount
UPDATE #9: Recount Reminders
UPDATE #8: Follow Up to April 25, 2011 Teleconference and Recount Directives
UPDATE #7: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
UPDATE #6: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
UPDATE #5: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
UPDATE #4: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
UPDATE #3: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
Who Shoulders the Cost Burden for the Recount of a State Office?
UPDATE #2: Status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
UPDATE: Important Information about the status of the Statewide Supreme Court Race Recount Process
Considerations for your County Canvass and preparation for potential recount

Authenticity of Ballots and Responsibility for Conducting Recounts

Questions about the authenticity of ballots arose during the 2011 Supreme Court recount process due to holes in some ballot bags, gaps in their closure or issues with security tags. A hole in a ballot bag or a missing security tag is not enough evidence alone to discard the ballots inside.  The ability to put a hand into a ballot bag is not by itself evidence of fraud. 

Wisconsin’s system of counting ballots on Election Night, canvassing votes in the following days, and recounting those votes is designed to ensure an accurate, honest and transparent tabulation and reporting of the people’s will at the ballot box, as well as to detect actual fraud.

Election Day Procedures

When most Wisconsin citizens vote on Election Day, they place their marked ballots into an optical scanning device, which records the votes and drops the marked ballots into a locked container. 

Before ballots are cast, the optical scan voting device is secured with a tamper evident numbered seal.  The seal number is recorded on the Inspectors’ Statement by the poll workers.  Voting occurs in a public location that anyone other than a candidate may observe while the polls are open.  Any member of the public, including a candidate, may be present at the polling place after the polls close.

After the polls close, election workers print out a tape which lists the tabulated vote totals.  The poll workers remove the voted ballots and place them into a secured container or bag.  The bag is secured using a tamper evident numbered seal.  Ballot containers have all potential openings secured in such a manner that no ballot may be removed, nor any ballot added, without visible interference or damage to that ballot container.  The seal number is recorded on the Inspectors’ Statement and Ballot Container Certificate by the poll workers.   Election officials are required to maintain a chain of custody record that documents the movement and location of election ballots from the time of delivery of the ballots to the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners until the destruction of the ballots is authorized under § 7.23 Wis. Stats.

Even if the container or bag is somehow opened later, or if the chain of custody is broken, election officials have the original print-out tape from the machine, as well as the electronic memory device from the machine. This enables election officials to determine the election night vote count.

Recount Procedures

The recount is conducted by the County Boards of Canvassers using procedures specified by state law and the Government Accountability Board.  During a recount, the people in charge of recounting the ballots are not the people who handled and counted the ballots on Election Night.  If the ballots had been tampered with between the election and the recount, there would be a break in the chain of custody and an unexplained difference in the results.  Typically in a recount, there are minor differences due to ballot marking errors by voters or issues encountered with the optical scanners.  In this election, 90 percent of the ballots were cast on paper and counted by optical scanners, 5 percent were cast on paper and counted by hand, and 5 percent were cast and tabulated on touch-screen equipment.  In this recount, of the 90 percent that were originally counted by voting equipment on Election Night, more than half are being recounted by hand, which results in some ballots being counted that the voting equipment may not have attributed a vote due to ballot irregularity, such as the voter circling the candidate name instead of filling in the oval or arrow.

G.A.B. staff has created an internal review process to check each ward’s recount totals against the original canvass totals to look for variances of plus or minus 10 votes.  Any ward in which 10 more or 10 fewer votes are reported is flagged by staff for follow-up with the county clerk for an explanation of the reason.  So far, we have found no significant, unexplained variances of vote totals.  Staff will continue to review Waukesha County’s results as they come in each day until the recount is complete.

Certification of the Election

Under state law, the G.A.B. is required to rely on the certifications of the county Boards of Canvassers in making its certification of the final results.  If either of the campaigns has unresolved issues with how individual county Boards of Canvassers handled the recounting of certain ballots, their exclusive remedy under state law is through an appeal to the circuit court.

In its certification of election results, the Board Chairperson certifies that the attached tabular statement, as compiled from the certified returns made to the Government Accountability Board by the several counties of the State, contains a correct abstract of the total number of votes given for the election.  It also determines and certifies the names of candidates who have received the greatest number of votes, and are duly elected.  A certificate of election may not be issued by the Board’s Director until the deadline for any appeal has passed.

2014 Partisan Primary Canvass -- 6th Congressional District

Candidate Unofficial Results Official Canvass Difference
Glenn Grothman 23,241 23,247 +6
Joe Leibham 23,027 23,028  +1
Duey Stroebel 15,868 15,873  +5
Tom Denow 2,115 2,117  +2
Write-In N/A 30 N/A

Grothman leads Leibham by 219 votes.

More detailed canvass documents will be posted Thursday.

2012 Recall State Senate District 21 Recount Information

State Senate D-21 Election and Recount Results

Candidate Unofficial Recount (certified)
Van H. Wanggaard 35,517  35,539
John Lehman 36,351  36,358
Scattering (write-ins) 56  58

Based on a petition from Van H. Wanggaard, the Government Accountability Board has ordered a recount in the District 21 State Senate Recall Election, which was held June 5, 2012.

The recount began Wednesday, June 20, and was conducted by the Racine County Board of Canvassers. The recount concluded Monday, July 2. Sen. Wanggaard's campaign had until close of business on Tuesday, July 10, to file a challenge in court. No challenge was filed, and the G.A.B. certified the results July 11, 2012.

See the attachment "Totals Recount 06-2012 through Day 11.xls" below for the final recount details.

For questions about how recounts are conducted, please consult the Recount Manual and the Recount Plan  document attached below. Also, consult the Recount Questions and Answers section.

The recount process was open to the public.

Each day during the recount the G.A.B. posted a spreadsheet update from the previous day's results, as provided by Racine County.

Also attached below are the recount order, a ward-by-ward tabulation of the unofficial results, and other relevant documents.

2011 Supreme Court Statewide Recount Information

The Government Accountability Board ordered a statewide recount, based on the Kloppenburg campaign's  request, of votes in the April 5, 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court election. The recount is now complete. The Government Accountability Board certified David T. Prosser Jr. as the winning candidate in the April 5, 2011 election for Supreme Court Justice, following a recount of ballots conducted by Boards of Canvassers in Wisconsin’s 72 counties. The Board’s certification notes that Justice Prosser received a total of 752,694 votes and that JoAnne F. Kloppenburg received 745,690 votes, a difference of 7,004 votes, or 0.46%. A total of 1,729 write-in votes were cast for other individuals.

Prior to the recount, Board staff held a teleconference for County Clerks, which is archived on Wisconsin Eye.

The Government Accountability Board, represented by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, filed a legal action in Dane County Circuit Court to establish the ground rules for Optech Eagle tabulating equipment used in the statewide recount of votes in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.  Attorneys for the G.A.B. and the candidates reached a stipulated agreement to hand-count ballots in parts of 31 counties that use Optech Eagle scanners.

For detailed information about how recounts are conducted in Wisconsin, please consult the Election Recount Procedures Manual.

New! County-by-county page of certified recount results.