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There’s little reason to expect Georgia’s election recount to change anything

November 12, 2020, 10:00 PM UTC

With tight margins between President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, the state of Georgia on Wednesday officially announced a hand recount of all the votes cast in the presidential election. If history is anything to go by, the result will likely stay the same: a Democrat winning Georgia for the first time in 28 years.

About 14,000 votes currently separate Biden and Trump, just 0.3% of the roughly 5 million ballots counted. The difference was slim enough for Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to order a “risk-limiting audit” to verify the results of a close race. “This will help build confidence,” Raffensperger said. “It will be an audit, a recount, and a recanvass all at once.”

In the context of millions of votes, 14,000 may not sound like much, but in practically every state election in modern U.S. history, such an amount has proved insurmountable. In Wisconsin, in the 2016 presidential election, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by roughly 20,000 votes. A recount ended up netting Trump just 131 additional votes. In 2011, a 7,300-vote difference in the Wisconsin state Supreme Court election swung just 312 votes following a recount.

For the 2020 election, Trump’s campaign said it would request a recount in Wisconsin once again with a margin in favor of Biden of about 20,000 votes. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said that while Trump has every legal right to push forward with recounts, 20,000 votes would be a “high hurdle” to overcome.

Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, echoed that sentiment, tweeting, “So far none of the legal suits have even potential to change election outcome, given what we know about the outstanding vote and how [the] election was run.

“Nor has there ever been statewide recount to pick up something like the 20K votes in [Wisconsin],” he added. “[Georgia] could be different but not decisive.”

Since 2000, there have been at least 31 statewide recounts, according to the Associated Press. Only three changed the outcome of the election, and the initial margins in those races were all under 300 votes.

The most famous recent example of a recount came after the 2000 presidential election when George W. Bush led Al Gore in Florida by fewer than 2,000 votes. A machine recount narrowed Bush’s margin of victory to 327 votes. Gore then requested a hand recount in Florida’s heavily Democratic counties, but Bush sued to stop the recount, with the Supreme Court ultimately ruling to end the recount and declare Bush the winner.

There’s one more issue when it comes to the possibility of altering the results of the 2020 election: Biden doesn’t need to win Georgia. After winning Pennsylvania, he secured enough electoral votes to take him over the 270 mark.

And as of Wednesday, Pennsylvania doesn’t look like it will fall under the threshold of 50,000 votes required to trigger an automatic recount. In fact, the lead in the state looks likely to only grow further, leaving little chance for Trump’s legal team to bring any legitimate challenge to court.