2020 Presidential Election Results: Pennsylvania Recount Won’t Change Much


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign event at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa., October 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Associated Press has called the state of Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, and with that, Joe Biden appears to have won the presidential race with at least 273 electoral votes, with Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina yet to be finalized.

Pennsylvania law requires a recount when the margin for a statewide office or ballot measure is less than or equal to 0.5 percent of the total vote. As of this writing, Joe Biden has 49.608 percent of the vote, and Donald Trump has 49.098 percent of the vote, a margin of .51 percent (that is, fifty-one one-hundredths of one percent, not fifty-one percent). Also note that certain counties may choose to recount, if there is a verified discrepancy in the returns:

Provision for Recount or Recanvass of Vote.–Whenever it shall appear that there is a discrepancy in the returns of any election district, or, upon petition of three voters of any district, verified by affidavit, that an error, although not apparent on the face of the returns, has been committed therein, or of its own motion or under subsection (g), the county board shall at any time prior to the completion of the computation of all of the returns for the county, summon the election officers of the district, and said officers, in the presence of said board, shall conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast.  Before making such recount or recanvass, the said board shall give notice in writing to the proper custodian of voting machines, and to each candidate, and to the county chairman of each party or political body, affected by the recount or recanvass;  and each such candidate may be present in person, or by attorney, and each of such parties, or bodies, may send two representatives to be present at such recount or recanvass.

As of this writing, Joe Biden won 34,414 more votes in the state than Donald Trump. A recount is unlikely to find tens of thousands of missed votes for the president.

From 2000 to 2019, only 31 of 5,778  statewide general elections had recounts, and resulted  in  an  average  margin  shift  of  430  votes between the frontrunners, representing 0.024 percent of  the  vote  in  those  elections.  The  largest  margin  change  occurred  in  Vermont  in  2006,  where  initial  errors in hand-counting resulted in a 0.107 percent shift in the recount margin, while the next largest shift in margin was 0.076 percent. The number of votes cast increased for both sides in 20 of the 31 recounts and decreased for both sides in three recounts.

Only three resulted in three reversals: the 2004 gubernatorial race in Washington State, the 2006 State Auditor race in Vermont, and the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. (In all three, the recount found enough missed votes to make the Democratic candidate the winner.)



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