This has been a chaotic election year by all accounts, and the weeks ahead are shaping up to be even more so.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden has clenched the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House — a victory sitting President Donald Trump has made clear he has no plans of conceding.
Now, as Trump pushes for recounts in battleground states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, it begs a question: Who, exactly, is going to pay for all of this?
There’s no federal guidance on how recount procedures should be funded, so the decision largely comes down to the states. Most states have some sort of established protocol: 20 states, including Pennsylvania, pay for automatic recounts when there’s a tight race (typically if the margin of victory is one-half of 1% or less), and 43 states, including Michigan, allow candidates to request a recount if the results are close (or, in states like Minnesota, for any reason at all). In states where recounts haven't been enacted automatically, the political campaign requesting the recount covers its cost, and the money is refunded if the results overturn the election’s outcome.
But some states don’t have any related laws on the books, which means they’re forced to absorb the cost of a recount, no matter what results.
Such is the case in Georgia, where Trump’s camp is pushing hard for a recount. In a statement on Friday, Nov. 6, Trump campaign attorney Matt Morgan claimed his team is “confident we will find ballots improperly harvested,” and that Trump will “ultimately prevail” in the state.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced the state will conduct a manual hand recount of all ballots cast in each of Georgia's 159 counties.
Election recounts take manpower — especially in Georgia, which is using paper ballots for the first time in nearly 20 years. There will likely be overtime hours to pay, research from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission shows, as well as location, security, and legal expenses.
There’s little precedent for a recount of this magnitude, so it's hard to tell how much this will cost Georgia taxpayers. But it won’t be cheap.
A 2004 gubernatorial recount in the state of Washington cost taxpayers over $1 million, according to a Pew Trusts study. In 2000, when the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore triggered a weeks-long recount in Florida, the conservative think tank Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) estimated the cost to a single county was $25,000 a day, and “millions of dollars” to the state as a whole.
CAGW, which has broadcast resounding support for Trump, did not return a request for comment on the pending recounts.
For election recounts outside of Georgia, Trump donors will likely pick up the tab — thanks to legislation passed in 2018 that allows national party committees (like the DNC and RNC) to collect up to $106,500 from individual donors. As of September 2020, Trump had already spent $58.4 million of donor money on legal fights, the New York Times reports.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest news on Georgia's recount procedures.