Nov 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's odds of winning through a recount are nearly impossible

Data: FairVote; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: FairVote; Table: Axios Visuals

The Trump campaign says it will seek recounts in several key states, but that's highly unlikely to change the outcome.

Why it matters: Statewide recounts have historically only changed electoral margins by an average 430 votes, according to the nonpartisan election reform group FairVote. Joe Biden's lead in several states is thin, but it's not that thin.

Driving the news: Each state has its own rules about when a recount can be triggered, whether it has to be requested by a campaign and who foots the bill.

  • Georgia's secretary of state announced Friday that the race is so close that a recount is inevitable. It's unlikely to change the state's final outcome, but FairVote senior research analyst Deb Otis said it's more realistic in Georgia than in other states.
  • The Pennsylvania race is currently within the 0.5% margin that would trigger an automatic recount, but that could change as more votes are counted.
  • The Trump campaign has said it will ask for a recount in Michigan and Wisconsin, where the president is down by tens of thousands of votes.
  • The only way to get a recount in Arizona is if the margin is within 0.1%.

The big picture: There have only been 31 recounts in the past 20 years, out of more than 5,700 statewide general elections, according to FairVote's analysis.

  • Three of those recounts overturned results, but they only shifted the final margin by 239-440 votes.
  • The median margin shift after a recount is 0.015% of the total count. The largest margin shift ever seen in a statewide race was 0.11% — much smaller than what Trump would need in order to hang onto the White House.
  • High turnout and millions of Americans voting by mail for the first time in 2020 could lead to more human error in ballot counting, but it's not likely to be enough to make a difference, Otis said.
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