U.S. Markets closed

What are the rules of a US election recount?

Annalisa Merelli
·3 min read
A banner states "COUNT EVERY VOTE" after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden overtook President Donald Trump in the Pennsylvania general election vote count in Philadelphia
A banner states "COUNT EVERY VOTE" after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden overtook President Donald Trump in the Pennsylvania general election vote count in Philadelphia

This article has been updated to reflect the results of the US presidential election.

The winner of the US presidential election is now clear, with Joe Biden securing definitive leads in Pennsylvania and Nevada, but the ballot counting continues in several states. At least one, Georgia, might go straight into a vote recount before certifying the results.

Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, announced Nov. 6 that if the margin between Joe Biden and Donald Trump remained only a few thousand votes, Georgia would be heading to a recount. According to the latest results, Biden leads Trump by about 7,200 votes, with a few thousand more left to count.

The rules for a recount, like most things in the US election, vary by state. This is how it would work in the ones that are closest at the moment.

Georgia

There is no automatic recount in Georgia, even with a very small margin. However, if the margin between the two candidates is less than 0.5% (currently, it’s 0.15%) then either candidate has a right to ask for a recount without paying for it.

A recount can also be requested if the margins are higher, but there is evidence of irregularities or mistakes. In that case, that evidence has to be provided by the party requesting the recount.

A recount has to be requested at least two days ahead of the deadline to certify the election, but there aren’t specific rules as to when it should be concluded. The state does not allow partial recounts.

Party observers are allowed to see the recount but there is no specific process for challenging it.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a recount is triggered automatically if the distance between the two candidates is under 0.5%. If election officials fear discrepancies, fraud, or errors, a recount can be ordered even if the margin is higher. Currently, Trump trails Biden by 0.55%.

Pennsylvania allows partial recounts, too, which can be requested at a county level by three voters. In this case, the cost of the recount falls on the petitioner, although if substantial mistakes or discrepancies were to be found, the costs would be reimbursed.

Candidates cannot request a recount.

The recount needs to be ordered before Nov. 12, or requested within three days of the first results, and be completed by Nov. 24.

Observers can examine the ballots and the machines, and also raise objections.

Nevada

The losing candidate can request a recount in Nevada, and there is no margin requirement. The request has to be made within three days of the end of the final count of votes, and must be completed within 10 days from the request.

The candidate requesting the recount has to put down a deposit equal to its estimated cost. Should the recount reverse the result, the deposit is reimbursed.

Any voter can request a recount, but only for ballot measures, and has to pay for it. If the recount reverses the result, or the cost is lower than the deposit, there is a reimbursement. No partial recounts are allowed.

Party representatives can observe the recount.

Arizona

Arizona does not allow anyone to request a recount. If the margin between the two candidates is smaller than 0.1%, it is triggered automatically. There are no deadlines.

Party observers are allowed, but there are no specific rules for challenges to the recount.

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.

More stories from Quartz: