How key swing states handle recounts and certify election results

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It’s clear that Joe Biden won the presidential race. But the specific results aren’t final yet, and each state has its own rules about how it finishes its vote count, confirms the totals and certifies the results.

President Donald Trump has launched a flurry of lawsuits hoping to question the legitimacy of the election, and Trump and his supporters are pinning their hopes on recounts to dramatically change the results in several battleground states — an incredibly unlikely result.

Meanwhile, states are moving quickly to finalize their results. The most tightly contested battlegrounds have deadlines looming in the next 10 to 20 days to officially conclude the vote count and declare the winner, which would put an end to Trump’s legal complaints.

So far, Trump’s lawsuits have contained little evidence of malfeasance, much less widespread, systemic fraud. Another obstacle for Trump: Each state has very specific processes about how to ask for recounts. Historically, recounts typically move as many as a few hundred votes that have been mistabulated, but margins in the key 2020 battleground states are all higher than 10,000. And many states have specific requirements for a recount to even be requested.

Here’s how officials in six crucial battleground states — four that have been called for Biden and two that remain uncalled, one with Biden in the lead and one with Trump in the lead — certify their election results, as well as the local rules for triggering a recount.

Arizona (Certification date: Nov. 30)

When do local election officials have to submit results? Local election boards meet no sooner than Nov. 9, but no later than Nov. 23, to canvass and certify local returns, according to state law. The secretary of state canvasses and certifies statewide results on Nov. 30, the fourth Monday after the election, per the state code.

What about a recount? A recount is triggered if the difference between two candidates is 0.1 percentage points, according to state elections code.

Georgia (Certification date: Nov. 20)

When do local election officials have to submit results? Counties need to first certify their elections, followed by a state certification process that includes an audit process. Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, said at a Friday press conference that the deadline for that process is Nov. 20. But, he added, “our hope and intent, working with the counties, is to move that earlier.”

What about a recount? Following that process, the candidate in second place can request a recount if the margin is within 0.5 percentage points. Sterling said the state was unsure how long it’d take because it is a new system, but it will hopefully be completed within a week.

Michigan (Certification date: Nov. 23)

When do local election officials have to submit results? County canvassing boards started meeting on Nov. 5 and must finish by Nov. 17, according to a calendar from the Michigan Department of State. The state canvassing board meets by Nov. 23 to do its work.

What about a recount? An automatic recount is triggered if the margin is less than 2,000 votes, according to a state summary of the recount procedure. (Biden is well ahead of that mark.) A candidate may also petition for a recount within 48 hours of the final canvass, but the candidate “must be able to allege a good-faith belief that but for fraud or mistake, the candidate would have had a reasonable chance of winning the election,” according to the state election code. The requesting campaign must foot the bill for the recount in that case.

North Carolina (Certification date: Nov. 24)

When do local election officials have to submit results? The final county canvass of results is on Nov. 13, according to the state board of elections. The state canvass is on Nov 24.

What about a recount? For a statewide election, candidates can demand a recount if the margin is either 0.5 percentage points or 10,000 votes, whichever is less, according to the state code. Individual counties or the state board may order a “recount when necessary to complete the canvass in an election.”

Pennsylvania (Certification date: Nov. 23)

When do local election officials have to submit results? County officials need to submit unofficial returns no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 10, according to guidance from the Department of State. If counties aren’t finished, they submit partial results and inform the secretary of the commonwealth that unofficial returns are not yet completed. A calendar from the Pennsylvania Department of State lists Nov. 23 as the last day for counties to file returns with the secretary of the commonwealth.

What about a recount? An automatic recount is triggered if the margin between the two candidates is less than 0.5 percentage points, based on those unofficial results. The secretary of the commonwealth must order that recount by Nov. 12, it can start no later than Nov. 18, and it must be finished by Nov. 24. Partial recounts in individual jurisdictions may be requested through the courts.

Wisconsin (Certification date: Dec. 1)

When do local election officials have to submit results?: County board of canvassers start meeting on Nov. 10 to begin certifying results, according to the state election board. The deadline for certification for counties is Nov. 17, and the chair of the state election board has until Dec. 1 to do the same.

What about a recount?: Candidates can request a recount after every county has finished certifying results if the margin is within 1 percentage point, and the Trump campaign has said it will seek one. A spokesperson for the state board told the Associated Press that it is likely some counties won’t finish certification until Nov. 17, and that the Trump campaign has until 5 p.m. on Nov. 18 to request a recount, which would be begin one to three days later. If the margin is greater than .25 percent (as it currently is), the Trump campaign would have to foot the bill.

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