What if there’s a recount in the presidential race? Here are the rules in the closest states

An election inspector looks at an absentee ballot at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Wednesday.
(Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

With Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on the verge of victory and gaining or leading in vote counts in several key states, the Trump campaign has made unsubstantiated claims of fraud and threatened a variety of legal counterattacks to avoid defeat.

Among the most important tools that could tilt the outcome of a race are recounts of the votes. But rules for triggering recounts vary by state. Here’s a look at the rules, according to research by the National Assn. of Secretaries of State.



The secretary of state “canvasses” — accounts for the ballots cast, reconciles errors and confirms valid votes — and certifies the results on the fourth Monday after the election and issues the certificate of election. Recounts are triggered automatically if a canvass finds a race is within a 0.1% (one-tenth of 1%) margin of victory.


The secretary of state canvasses and certifies election results no later than 14 days after the election, with the governor certifying electors no later than 15 days after the election. A candidate can request a recount if trailing the winner by less than 1%, and the request must be made within two business days of certification.


The secretary of state and the state Supreme Court canvass returns on the fourth Tuesday in November, with the governor issuing a certificate of election. A losing candidate can file a recount request within three days of the canvass.


County officials canvass and send results to the secretary of state by the Tuesday after the election, after which the secretary canvasses and certifies the results. The governor issues a certificate of election to the winner. A recount is triggered automatically if the margin of victory is within 0.5% (half of 1%), and must take place by the third Wednesday after the election and finish by the following Tuesday.


County officials canvass and send results to the state election commission within 14 days after the election. The commission canvasses and certifies results on Dec. 1. A candidate can request a recount if the margin of victory is within 1%; it must be sent and received by the first business day after all the county results have been submitted.


County officials canvass and transmit results to the secretary of state within 14 days of the election. A bipartisan, governor-appointed board of state canvassers canvasses those results within 40 days of the election. A candidate may request a recount in a precinct if the candidate believes there was fraud or error in that precinct that prevented the candidate from winning.