Hand-counting ballots looks like a ton of work — here’s how the presidential election recount is unfolding in Wisconsin

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REUTERS/Jim Young

Although the election was almost a month ago, three states are recounting all of their ballots thanks to a request from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Stein raised enough money to file recounts in Wisconsin (which officially began December 1), Michigan (which began December 5), and Pennsylvania (which is still pending in the courts).

While Stein has raised over $7 million, her team estimates the recount costs for all three states will be $9 million.

The high price tag is mostly due to the cost of recounting votes by hand, which Stein has been pushing for, citing beliefs that the election was “hack-riddled,” though no evidence of hacking has surfaced yet.

Counting ballots by hand is a ton of work – here’s how the process is unfolding in Wisconsin, how it works, and what might happen.


Across Wisconsin, election officials are racing to recount the state’s 2,975,313 votes in 12 days.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by capturing just 22,177 more votes than his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Stein only got 31,006.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


While 12 counties plan to use optical scanners for the recount, 47 counties plan to recount by hand, and 13 counties are using a combination of the two methods.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


Since tabulating by hand costs more because you have to pay people to do it, the Wisconsin recount will cost almost $3.9 million.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


Wisconsin state law dictates that the board of canvassers who called the results on election day recount the votes, but they can hire additional tabulators if they need help.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


Anyone, including the public, can attend the recount.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


The campaigns have official representatives there to oversee the process and ensure their candidate’s interests are being met.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


The board of canvassers for each county decides if they are going to hand-count the votes or use a machine.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


If they count the ballots by hand, tabulators are instructed to first separate the ballots into piles for each candidate, and then to count the stacks.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


The Wisconsin Elections Commission recommends tabulators work in teams of two to double-check each other’s counts.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


Tabulators also review any ballots that were set aside or disqualified on Election Day to determine if they should count them, too.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


Trump’s overwhelming electoral victory virtually assures that the recount won’t change the outcome of the election. Clinton would have to win all three states being considered for recounts in order to tip the scales in her favor.

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Business Insider/Andy Kiersz/Skye Gould

Stein says on her website that her “effort to recount votes in those states is not intended to help Hillary Clinton,” but to “shine a light on just how untrustworthy the US election system is.”

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: Jill Stein


But as elections experts wrote on Monday: “The recount will discover only small discrepancies between the election night totals; both methods of counting ballots — hand and scanners — will prove highly accurate; and scanners will be more accurate than humans.”

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Andy Manis/Getty Images

Source: The Washington Post


It will take hundreds of people, nearly $4 million, and two weeks to confirm the experts’ prediction in Wisconsin, though.

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Andy Manis/Getty Images