Recount 2020: Contested states and their recount rules

So, as I’m writing this, it’s pretty clear that Biden is going to win enough states to be the next President. But that won’t be official for awhile. Some of these races were tight. Some weren’t that tight, but Trump will likely pretend they were. What does that mean? It’s recount season, y’all!

Every state does this differently because we have a crazy quilt of election laws. Let’s look at the ones most likely to be relevant:

ARIZONA

  • Automatic? For Presidential races, only if the margin of victory is <= 0.1%.
  • Requested? None. Arizona does not permit requested recounts at all.
  • Arizona is going to be tight, but it probably isn’t going to be that tight. It’s very likely there will be no recount here.

GEORGIA

  • Automatic? None.
  • Requested? Oh yeah. Candidates can request a recount within 2 working days after certification if the margin of victory is <= 0.5%. At the precinct level, election workers can order a precinct recount if they believe there are apparent discrepancies. And the Secretary of State can order one if an apparent error is suspected. Regardless of who starts it, the state pays.
  • There is going to be a recount here. As a curiosity, most states’ recount triggers are some number of days after the canvass, not after certification.

MICHIGAN

  • Automatic? Not for Presidential elections. The Senate race here is a different story, but sort of outside the scope of this hastily-assembled diary.
  • Requested? A losing candidate can request a recount within 2 days (not working days, either) of the canvass. The requester pays all costs, although they are refunded if it flips the result.
  • Michigan is not close. I can’t imagine Trump’s cash-poor campaign funding a recount here, but if someone decides to underwrite him, it’s possible. After all, the Stein campaign found the money to pay for a recount here last time…

NEVADA

  • Automatic? None.
  • Requested? A losing candidate can request a recount within 3 working days of the canvass, regardless of the vote spread. Requester pays costs, refunded if it flips the result.
  • I expect Trump to push for a recount here regardless of whether that makes any sense, just to muddy the waters in an effort to stall the obvious. Also, frankly, recounting Nevada is cheaper than recounting, say, Michigan. So if he runs low on money and starts to triage his shenanigans, this one’s still in contention.

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Automatic? None.
  • Requested? Yes. So, North Carolina has a really detailed, really complex set of rules for recounts, including up to two rounds of requested recounts followed by a full-state automatic recanvass if that process appeared to flip the result. However, to start the process, the margin has to be <= 0.5% or 10,000 votes, whichever is lesser.
  • Biden made a good effort in North Carolina, but Trump’s margin here is likely to be too large to allow for a recount request. Also, there’s nothing to be gained by pushing a recount here when he’s already President-Elect. This won’t be recounted.

PENNSYLVANIA

  • Automatic? If the margin of victory is <= 0.5%. State pays.
  • Requested? Requested recounts must be done at the election district (county) level. Each one has to happen separately. In addition to the request itself, each one requires three voters from that district sign an affidavit alleging an error in the total. That’s probably the reason for the fairly long filing window here, up to five days after the canvass. Regardless, the requester pays the costs, although those are refunded in the case a substantial error is discovered (it’s not clear to me whether that requires that the result would flip or not).
  • I… can’t imagine how it would matter, but I bet Trump throws money at this, although don’t honestly think his campaign has the money or the logistical skill to force a recount everywhere. I especially expect a recount in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) because their ballot-mailing company’s screw up earlier makes for an obvious opening to claim something went wrong. He might also force a recount in Philadelphia out of spite (assuming they can find three Republicans in Philadelphia willing to sign their stupid affidavit), although that will absolutely be flushing money down the drain. But since flushing money down the drain is the one thing Trump is good at…

WISCONSIN

  • Automatic? None.
  • Requested? In a Presidential election, a candidate can request a recount on the first business day after the canvass is completed (and only on that day!), and the margin of victory is <= 1%. If the margin of victory was <= 0.25%, the state pays all costs. Otherwise, the requester pays, refunded if it flips the result. [EDIT: Made a hash of this. Corrected now -SA]
  • Biden’s margin of victory was small enough here that Trump can pass the costs of this recount on to the taxpayers of Wisconsin, so you know that’s what he will do.

Trump’s “strategy” at the moment is entirely dilatory. Stall counts, stall results, stall stall stall while he incites his cult. None of these states will trigger mandatory automatic recounts, but Trump is 100% certain to force recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin, because they’re both reasonably close and he won’t have to pay in GA (although he probably would in WI). I assume there will be at least a partial recount in Pennsylvania, because he can’t win unless he manufactures a way to take Pennsylvania. Whether Nevada and Michigan have to go through the process likely depends on whether he can find lackeys to pay for them.