A proposal to limit election recounts that’s up for a hearing Wednesday would have prevented Jill Stein’s Wisconsin recount and increased public trust in the election system, one Republican lawmaker said. “We need to make sure people aren’t using elections as a political tool,” the bill’s author, Sen. Devin LeMahieu, said at a Senate Committee on Elections and Utilities hearing. The bill from LeMahieu and GOP Rep. Ron Tusler would only allow candidates in statewide elections who trail the leading candidate by 1 percent or less of the total number of votes to petition for a recount. Had the bill been in place in November, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost to Republican Donald Trump by a margin of less than 1 percent in Wisconsin, would have been able to petition for a recount. But not Stein. She came in fourth but raised more than $3.5 million to fund Wisconsin’s recount. The state’s election commission later refunded Stein $1.5 million after costs were less than estimated.
Democratic Sen. Mark Miller questioned the need for the legislation, given that parties petitioning for recounts cover most of the costs. “When you deny the ability of citizens or interested groups from verifying results of an election you create the perception that something is being hidden,” Miller said. “In fact, I think it should be allowable to any citizens group, not just a candidate.”
Under the bill, only aggrieved candidates could ask for a recount. That means the candidate would have to be within 1 percent of the winner’s vote total in an election with at least 4,000 votes. If fewer than 4,000 votes are cast, the person seeking a recount must be within 40 votes. Taxpayers would still pay for recounts only where the difference is within one-quarter of a percentage point.
The proposal also shortens the deadline for a recount petition to be filed but increases the amount of time a petitioner has to pay costs and clerks have to issue refunds. It also makes recounts costlier by adding the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s costs, which weren’t previously included.