Joe Biden has won Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes, moving the former vice president to the threshold of the presidency, depending on the outcome in just a few remaining swing states.
“Plain and simple, Donald Trump has lost Wisconsin, he is losing Michigan, and he is losing the presidency,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.
Biden’s lead in the unofficial vote tally was just over 20,500 votes, or about 0.6 of a percentage point, a nearly identical margin by which Trump won the state in 2016. Shortly before The Associated Press called the state for Biden, the Trump campaign vowed to “immediately” request a recount in Wisconsin.
“Despite ridiculous public polling used as a voter suppression tactic, Wisconsin has been a razor-thin race as we always knew that it would be,” Bill Stepien, Trump campaign manager, said in a statement.
Stepien made unsubstantiated claims that there have been “reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results,” but did not elaborate.
The Biden campaign tore into those claims Wednesday afternoon.
“When Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by roughly the same amount of votes that Joe Biden just did, or won Michigan with fewer votes than Joe Biden is winning it now, he bragged about a ‘landslide,’ and called recount efforts ‘sad,’” Bates said.
“What makes these charades especially pathetic is that while Trump is demanding recounts in places he has already lost, he’s simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the counting of votes in other states in which he’s on the road to defeat. This is not the behavior of a winning campaign.”
If Biden’s advantage stays about where it is, Trump could request a recount, although his campaign would most likely need to pay for it. Under state law, if the election is within 1% of the winner’s total vote, the second-place candidate has the right to request a recount.
There is no cost to the losing candidate if the difference between the leading candidate is 0.25% or less. If the difference is more than 0.25%, the Wisconsin Elections Commission will estimate the cost, which must be paid before the recount begins.
The recount rules were enacted after Green Party candidate Jill Stein requested a recount in 2016, which resulted in a net gain of 131 votes for Trump.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law the recount rule changes, which effectively blocked his campaign from seeking a recount when he lost the 2018 election by 1.1 percentage points. On Wednesday he called Biden’s lead in the state a “high hurdle” for Trump to overcome, although not impossible if the canvassing of results shifts things.
For now, attention turns toward certifying election results. Each of Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipalities must complete their counts by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Then, counties begin canvassing and results are certified by the state Elections Commission by Dec. 1.
Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said the election process followed state laws, which do not permit the counting of absentee ballots before Election Day and allow municipalities to count absentee ballots at a central location, which results in late updates to the totals.
“There are no dark corners or locked doors in elections,” Wolfe said in a press briefing Wednesday morning. “Anybody was free to watch those processes as they unfolded yesterday.”
Wolfe emphasized in the coming days and weeks, municipal, county and state elections officials will begin the process of meticulously double- and triple-checking the results through the canvassing process.
The state will also begin a random selection of 5% of the voting equipment used in this election, which must be audited to ensure the paper tally matches the tally from the voting equipment.
“I think that it’s insulting to our local election officials to say that yesterday’s election was anything but an incredible success that was the result of years of preparation and meticulously, carefully following the law,” Wolfe said.
Evers offers assurance
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers during a media call Wednesday assured Wisconsinites of a fair and accurate election result, and urged patience as “every vote is being counted and every single voter is being heard.”
He said the Trump campaign is welcome to seek a recount, but expects Biden’s lead in the state to be insurmountable.
The final results could shift slightly after provisional ballots are tallied. Such ballots are an option for voters who don’t have the proper photo ID at the polls on Election Day. They have until Friday to provide a proper photo ID for their ballots to be counted. So far the state has only recorded 212 provisional ballots, though there could be more.
Wolfe said there are typically only about 1,000 provisional ballots issued in general elections.
State law allows a losing candidate to request a recount if the difference in votes is within 1%, and Donald Trump's presidential campaign has vowed to do so.
Ballot record set
The number of voters in this election, about 3.3 million, set an all-time record for the state, while the turnout as a percentage of the estimated voting-age population was about 72.5%, just shy of the all-time record of 73.2% turnout in 2004.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voters returned a record 1,924,838 absentee and early ballots out of 2,071,727 requested. It’s unclear how many absentee ballots were returned after polls closed Tuesday, which would cause them to be disqualified under state law and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some absentee voters may have decided not to return their absentee ballot and instead vote in person.
Turnout was substantially higher than in 2016, when about 3 million, or 67% of voting-age Wisconsinites cast a ballot.
Both candidates received higher percentages of support than Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Biden benefited from higher support in reliably Democratic Dane and Milwaukee counties, as well as a stronger showing than Clinton in the reliably Republican Milwaukee suburban counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.
For most of Tuesday night and early Wednesday, Trump retained a consistent lead in early returns. But that lead evaporated when the totals from Democratic-leaning absentee ballots were accounted for in the state’s urban centers of Milwaukee and Green Bay.
Kenosha County delivered its final unofficial vote totals as dawn was breaking shortly after 6 a.m., sealing Biden’s lead.
Still, election officials caution election night results are unofficial and need to be certified by municipal, county and state officials before they can become valid.
A true battleground
Three of the past five presidential elections in Wisconsin were decided by less than 1 percentage point. Trump, in 2016, was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1984. Polls leading up to the election had shown Biden with a larger lead, just as they had for Clinton four years earlier.
In 2000, Al Gore won Wisconsin by just 5,708 votes over George W. Bush, a difference of just 0.22 of a percentage point. Trump won in 2016 by 22,748 votes, or 0.77 of a percentage point.
Wisconsin decided the 2016 presidential election and both campaigns made it a focus this year. Trump visited the state 10 times this year, including four stops in the final 10 days of the race. Biden visited three times during the campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.