As more states finish counting votes on Friday and throughout the weekend, the presidential election might seem like it's almost over.
Recounts loom in Georgia and Wisconsin at least, and perhaps also in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada, where the margins between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump remain slim. After overtaking Trump in Georgia and Pennsylvania, Biden leads in enough states to clinch the presidency—but those leads remain tenuous, and major media outlets have not yet called the race for either candidate, though Decision Desk, an independent vote-counting operation, has called both Pennsylvania and the race for Biden.
The bigger question at this point is not whether recounts will happen, but whether they will affect the overall outcome of the race.
Take Georgia, for example. As of noon on Friday, Biden led in Georgia by fewer than 1,600 votes—a margin of less than 0.1 percent of the more than 4.8 million votes counted so far in the state.
"With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia," said its Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a Friday morning press conference.
— The Recount (@therecount) November 6, 2020
Georgia state law does not allow for automatic recounts in the event of close races, but candidates are allowed to request recounts in any race decided by less than half of 1 percent. Trump's campaign would have to wait until counting is finished to make such a request, but Raffensperger seems to believe that outcome is inevitable.
Georgia, however, is not essential for Biden's most obvious path to the all-important 270 electoral votes. Even if a prolonged recount in the Peach State were to flip the outcome back to Trump, Biden could clinch the presidential race by winning other states.
Pennsylvania, where Biden leads by about 9,700 votes, is the second-closest race at the moment. It has a law requiring automatic recounts in any statewide election decided by less than half of 1 percent—and individual candidates are allowed to ask (and pay) for recounts in races that exceed that threshold.
At the moment, Pennsylvania's presidential election falls within automatic recount territory, but Biden's lead is expected to grow as the counting continues. Whether it's automatic or requested by Trump, a recount there seems likely. And a recount in Pennsylvania is more likely to swing the outcome of the whole election by virtue of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes—though, realistically, Trump's campaign would have to win recounts in both Georgia and Pennsylvania to have a chance of winning reelection.
The wild card in all this could be Wisconsin, where Trump's campaign has already initiated a request for a recount. But Biden's lead in Wisconsin, which has 10 electoral votes, exceeds 20,000 votes. It seems unlikely that a recount would result in a swing that large.
Biden also has a roughly 20,000-vote lead in Nevada, a state without a mandatory recount law. In a statement on Friday, Trump's campaign alleged that "thousands of individuals" in Nevada "improperly cast ballots," but it is unclear whether Trump is seeking a recount or taking that issue into the courts.
It should be fairly obvious that the election is far from settled. Trump appears to be losing, but he is entitled to contest the results through recounts in various states and to pursue court challenges against what his campaign calls "irregularities" in vote counting in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Even with a candidate less personally combative than Trump, it would be premature to expect a concession when so many results remain up in the air.
At the same time, it's important to keep in mind that Trump's allegations of widespread voter fraud and talk of a stolen election remain unsubstantiated.
"The president's allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated," Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.) said Friday morning. "I'm not aware of any significant wrongdoing here." Other Republicans including Sens. Susan Collins (R–Maine) and Mitt Romney (R–Utah) have made similar remarks.
The mantra for the past several days has been to keep calm and let the votes be counted. Now, keep calm and let them be recounted, too.