Key States Could Be Headed Toward Recounts. Here Are the Rules.

The votes are still being counted—they might get counted again.

President Donald Trump makes a statement at the White House on November 4, 2020.Chris Kleponis/CNP via ZUMA Wire

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On Wednesday morning, Joe Biden was leading Donald Trump by small margins in three states that will be critical in deciding the outcome of the presidential election. If the former vice president holds on to his leads in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada, he will likely be the next president.

But such thin margins—if they hold—could leave room for the Trump campaign to request a recount, something he may well do given his baseless charges of widespread voter fraud. On a Wednesday call with reporters, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Wisconsin was in “recount territory.” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon countered on her own press call. “We are going to win Wisconsin, recount or no recount,” she said.

It’s still possible Biden could lose his lead in these states as the tallying continues—or that his lead could grow large enough to make a recount pointless. But as we wait, here are the recount rules for the neck-and-neck states:

Michigan

An automatic recount begins in Michigan if the margin separating the candidates is 2,000 votes or less. Otherwise, candidates can request a full or partial recount of the state’s votes if, in the words of Michigan election law, “the candidate is aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes.” Those grievances need not be specific: If evidence of wrongdoing is “not available” to the requesting candidate, then he “is only required to allege fraud or a mistake in the petition without further specification.” A recount must be requested within 48 hours of the vote canvass, and the deadline to complete the recount is 30 days after it begins. The requesting candidate pays for the recount and is refunded if the recount turns the election in their favor.

Nevada

In Nevada, a candidate can request a recount for any reason, regardless of the margin separating the candidates. Requests for a recount must be made within three business days following the state’s vote canvass and must be completed within 10 days of the request. The requesting candidate must pay for the recount, though the money is refunded if the recount changes the outcome of the election. Candidates can only request a full recount, not a partial one.

Wisconsin

Candidates can request a full or partial vote recount in Wisconsin if the margin separating the candidates is 1 percent or less. In presidential contests, the request must be made by 5 p.m. on the first business day following the vote canvass. The candidate requesting the recount must pay for it if the margin is greater than 0.25 percent of the total vote, though the money is refunded if the recount changes the election outcome. If a recount request is granted, the recount must be completed within 13 days. Wisconsin implemented stricter recount rules in the wake of the 2016 election, after Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who had no chance of winning, requested a recount that changed the outcome by just 163 votes, in Trump’s favor.

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