In the week since American voters went to the polls, most things about the result have become clear, and a few things remain outstanding. Joe Biden has been declared, by the media, Democrats, and more than a few Republicans, to be the President-Elect. He has spent the last few days beginning to assemble an administration, and calling, and receiving congratulations from, foreign leaders.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, has not conceded that he lost the election, and insists that he can still win. He has initiated lawsuits in several states, and pledged to seek recounts in others.
To somehow win the election, Trump would have to hold onto all the states he currently leads, and reverse the Biden lead in at least three states where he currently trails in the count.
So where does the vote count stand? Let’s have a look at the key states, starting with the two where Trump leads:
The race in North Carolina was called for Donald Trump by Decision Desk, a non-partisan results service, yesterday. Trump leads by about 75,000 votes, with only a few thousand more votes likely to trickle in. Trump is certain to win it. However, it is worth noting that his lead here is smaller in percentage terms than Biden’s lead in several states that Trump is banking on recounts to win.
President Trump has a commanding lead in Alaska, about 40,000 votes, with about 50,000 votes left to count. Although the remaining votes should be more supportive of Biden than Trump, it is very unlikely that Biden will win the 82% or more of them than he needs. Trump should win this one comfortably.
With all votes counted, Biden leads Trump by 20,539 votes. This is slightly smaller than Trump’s lead over Hillary Clinton in 2016, which was 23,000 votes.
The Trump campaign has indicated that it will seek a recount. The largest swing ever in a Wisconsin recount was 7,000 votes, so if that was repeated, it would not be enough to change the result. In 2016, a recount of the Presidential election resulted in a swing of just 134 votes – and they went from Clinton to Trump. It would take a historic error in the count for Trump to prevail in Wisconsin.
In Michigan, Trump trails Biden by 148,000 votes, or about 2.6% of the total votes cast. This is well outside the margin for a recount. A Trump campaign lawsuit to stop the results being certified (made final) was thrown out by a Judge the other day, with the Judge saying that the Trump campaign “do not offer any affidavits or specific eyewitness evidence to substantiate their assertions.”
Joe Biden’s lead in Arizona is slightly under 13,000 votes. The counting is not quite finished, but it is getting very close – most estimates say that to win the state, Trump would have to win about 70% of all the remaining votes – 20,000 or so – that are left to count. Arizona does not allow recounts unless the margin of victory for the winning candidate is one tenth of one percent (0.01%). Biden’s lead at present is 0.39% – so Trump is not likely to secure an automatic recount unless the remaining votes break massively in his favour.
The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit arguing that some ballots filled in with permanent marker (sharpies, in the American lexicon) may have caused the ink to bleed through and cause votes to be wrongly counted. There is no lawsuit alleging fraud, and a similar lawsuit by local citizens was dismissed last week.
In Nevada, Joe Biden leads by 34,000 votes, or more than 2.5% of all votes cast. Nevada law allows for the losing candidate to request a recount, which they must pay for themselves. If the result shifts in their favour as a result of the recount, the state will refund them the money. However, no recount in Nevada history has ever overturned a result on this scale.
The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in Nevada. This was dismissed early this morning, with the Judge noting that “there simply is not any evidence to support the claim”.
In Georgia, Biden leads Trump by 14,000 votes, or 0.28% of all votes cast. A candidate can request a recount if the margin is less that 0.5% – so Trump is well inside the margin for an automatic recount, which will likely begin after November 20th, when Georgia is due to announce its final result.
A few days ago, a Trump campaign lawsuit alleging fraud in Georgia was thrown out by a state judge, who said the campaign had presented no evidence to support its claims.
In Pennsylvania, Biden leads Trump by about 46,000 votes, or 0.68% of the vote. Like Georgia, Pennsylvania requires a recount if the margin is less than 0.5%. At the moment, Biden’s lead is too big to trigger a recount, meaning that the Trump campaign will have to prove, in court, that there was fraud in the state. The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit alleging extensive and pervasive fraud, and this has yet to be adjudicated.
However, the Trump lawsuit only identifies 14,000 votes that it says have been fraudulently cast, meaning that if it won, it would still trail Biden in Pennsylvania by 32,000 votes – enough to trigger a recount, but not enough to win the state.
What are Trump’s chances of prevailing?
To win, Trump would have to flip at least 36 electoral votes. Pennsylvania has 20, Georgia and Michigan have 16 each, Arizona has 11, Wisconsin has 10, and Nevada has 6. So, flipping Pennsylvania alongside Georgia or Michigan would do it.
However, realistically, Trump would need to achieve an unprecedented outcome from a recount in not just one state, but multiple states. It would need to be the largest ever error in some combination of states all at the same time.
Alternatively, Trump could secure legal victories which disqualify large numbers of votes for Biden. If Trump does somehow end up being inaugurated on January 20th, this is probably the only path to that outcome. However, it is worth noting that as of yet, not one single lawsuit taken by Trump with a view to overturning the vote count has prevailed, and several have been dismissed.