Recount restrictions: GOP lawmakers say candidates who finish more than 1% behind shouldn't get one

MADISON -- Three Republican state lawmakers intend to restrict election recounts in Wisconsin to only the closest races, effectively boxing out unexpected requests like the one from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in late 2016.

The legislation would bar candidates who finish more than 1 percent behind the winner from requesting a recount. Stein received just 1 percent of the total vote, finishing a distant fourth place, but came up with the money and forced the state to recount its ballots in the presidential race.

"We heard from a lot of constituents and also county clerks," said state Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. "Why is this allowed? Why is the Green Party being able to use this political tool to be able to fundraise?"

Gov. Scott Walker said he supports the idea of placing restrictions on Wisconsin's recount law, while the Assembly's top Democrat likened it to "using a sledgehammer to get a mosquito."

Jill Stein

LeMahieu said he talked with four or five clerks before circulating the bill for co-sponsors last week. He said, at a time in December when municipal clerks would be mailing property tax bills and preparing for spring elections, many worked day and night to finish the recount in time for Wisconsin's electoral votes to count.

Devin LeMahieu

Stein made her request in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania alleging that voting machines in each state were vulnerable to hacking or tampering, and that there was widespread fraud in the election system.

The recount in Wisconsin found evidence of neither. Courts barred Stein's request in Pennsylvania and shut down a partially completed recount in Michigan.

The Wisconsin recount increased President Donald Trump's winning margin by 131 votes and cost Stein a little north of $2 million.

Walker said he's not sure if 1 percent is the right threshold, but he supports the GOP lawmakers' general goal.

"People would expect that someone who's close should have a shot to have a recount, but if you've got someone in third or fourth place, I think a lot of people -- regardless of party -- kind of rolled their eyes when that happened," Walker told reporters at the state Capitol.

Governor Scott Walker

One top Democrat is against the GOP proposal, saying it would make Wisconsin's law too restrictive.

"I'm not sure there's a problem there, to be frank. If a person's willing to pay the total cost of the recount and it doesn't cost the taxpayers one dime, I'm not sure why we have a problem to begin with," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

Barca said he was willing to consider legislation that had a threshold higher than the 1 percent cutoff that the three GOP lawmakers have proposed.

Under the bill, taxpayers would still pay the cost of a recount if two candidates are within 0.25 percent apart. Candidates would pay the cost if the margin is between 0.25 percent and 1 percent.

In January, with GOP lawmakers talking about making changes to Wisconsin's recount law, Stein said recounts should be automatic in certain circumstances.

"Recounts are not for candidates. Recounts are for voters," she told FOX6. "And recounts should be automatic if races are extremely close, or if there are red flags for tampering or hacking or corruption of the vote."