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Presidential election recounts, explained

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Election Day has ended, but the presidential race isn’t over yet. The election remains close in states where ballots continue to be counted, including Georgia and Nevada. In other states, such as Wisconsin, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are separated by less than one percentage point of the vote. 

With slim margins separating both candidates, it is likely ballot recounts will take place in some states. Trump’s Campaign Manager Bill Stepien announced Tuesday night that the Trump campaign intends to request a recount in Wisconsin. According to the New York Times, Biden leads in Wisconsin with a projected 0.6% of the vote. 

Historically, recounts have only slightly changed results, by at most a few hundred votes, which is usually not enough to change who wins a state in a presidential election.

Voting rules vary by state and so do rules regarding the recount process. Below is a state-by-state breakdown of how recounts work in some of 2020’s most hotly contested swing states, along with the history of recounts in Ohio.

Ohio

The last presidential election recount in Ohio was for the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry. After the recount, Ohio was called in favor of Bush, but two election workers in Cuyahoga County attempted to rig the recount, according to the LA Times. Both workers were sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In Ohio, if the margin between two candidates is 0.25% or less in statewide elections, an automatic recount will be held. For county, municipal and district elections, this margin must be 0.5% to trigger an automatic recount. 

Ohio does not require a specific margin for a requested recount. The requester of a recount is responsible for paying for it. If the recount changes the results of an election to the requester’s favor, however, they may be refunded

A recount must be requested no later than five days after results of an election have been declared. Ohio is one of only two states that require a presidential recount to be completed no later than six days before the Electoral College meets. 

Georgia

There are no automatic recounts in Georgia. If the margin between candidates is equal to or less than 0.5%, candidates or voters can request a recount

In Georgia, the state pays for recounts. State law does not provide a deadline by which a recount must be completed.

Nevada

Like in Georgia, automatic recounts do not take place in Nevada. No margin is required for candidates or voters to request a recount

In Nevada, the requester of a recount pays for it, though they can be refunded if the recount changes election results in their favor. A recount can be requested no later than three business days after the official tally of all votes in an election has been released, and it must start within five days of its request. The recount must be completed within five days of its start.

Wisconsin

Automatic recounts do not take place in Wisconsin. In elections where the vote total is 4,000 or less, a margin of less than or equal to 40 votes is required for candidates or voters to request a recount. In elections with a vote total greater than 4,000 — a category the presidential election would fall under — a margin of less than or equal to 1% is required for a requested recount

In Wisconsin, who pays for a recount is dependent on the margin of the vote. If a requester is required to pay and a recount changes the results of an election, the requester may receive a refund. 

For presidential elections, a recount must be requested no later than 5 p.m. on the first business day following canvassing of all valid provisional and absentee ballots. A requested recount must be completed no more than 13 days after it is ordered.

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