Gabriel Sterling, Voting Systems Manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, answers questions during a press conference on the status of ballot counting on November 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 2020 presidential race between incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is still too close to call with outstanding ballots in a number of states including Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Gabriel Sterling, Voting Systems Manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, answers questions during a press conference on the status of ballot counting on November 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 2020 presidential race between incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is still too close to call with outstanding ballots in a number of states including Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Biden is leading by less than 2,000 votes in Georgia, which could lead to a recount. But past efforts in the state and others have rarely changed margins that much.

Georgia, you’re on everyone’s mind. 

The traditionally conservative state is likely headed to a recount in its presidential race, according to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Democratic candidate Joe Biden currently leads President Donald Trump by about 1,600 votes with nearly 8,200 ballots left to count, in addition to an unknown number of military and overseas ballots that are still arriving.

Regardless of how those ballots play out, Raffensperger said on Friday that a recount was all but certain. 

“Out of approximately 5 million votes cast, we’ll have a margin of a few thousand,” Raffensperger told reporters during a press conference. “With a margin that small, there will be a recount. Interest in our election obviously goes far beyond Georgia’s borders. The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country.”

While the election has yet to be called, Biden’s lead in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania have made it increasingly likely that he will earn the 270 electoral votes he needs to be the next president of the United States. 

A recount in Georgia is unlikely to change that, but assuming it does occur, here’s how it would work: A candidate or election superintendent can request a recount in Georgia if the margin of victory is less than 0.5% of votes. A formal recount challenge cannot be made until later in November, when the results of the election are certified. The deadline for Georgia to certify results is Nov. 20, and should the Trump campaign request a recount at that point, they would have two days to do so. 

The state would then recount every ballot to ensure accuracy. 

In the past, recounts in the state have not changed results very much. In 2004, a recount took place in a judicial race in which the two candidates were separated by fewer than 400 votes. After the recount concluded, the final margin changed by only 15 votes. 

Georgia may not be the only state that goes to a recount. The Trump campaign has signaled they may ask for a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden leads by about 20,000 votes (0.6%). The race has been called for Biden by every media organization, but under Wisconsin law, a campaign can ask for a recount if they file a sworn petition and pay for the cost of conducting a recount. 

Like in Georgia, the Trump campaign won’t be able file a recount petition until Wisconsin certifies its election results, which are due by Dec. 1. They could also seek recounts in other swing states, like Pennsylvania and Nevada, but statewide recounts almost never lead to a change in the winner. 

Wisconsin conducted a recount in the 2016 presidential election after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 20,000 votes. The recount added 131 votes to Trump’s tally.  In 2011, a recount in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race decided by about 7,300 votes changed the winning margin by just 312 votes.

Even former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has acknowledged a margin of 20,000 votes would be all but impossible to make up in a recount. 

While a few recounts have changed the results of elections, such as in the 2004 Washington governor’s race and 2008 Minnesota Senate election, the margins in those contests were under 300 votes and saw swings of less than 600 votes total. 

Depending on where Georgia’s count ends, the margin may be small enough where a recount could swing the race. But if either candidate’s lead climbs above 1,000 votes, that probability drops dramatically.

“I don’t know of any statewide recount in the history of the United States with a margin of greater than 1,000 votes where it overturned the result,” David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research told reporters this week. “The Minnesota senate race in 2008 was within that margin. The Washington governor’s race in 2004 was within that margin and those were worthwhile recounts given the margins were so small.”

In 2020, given Biden’s margins in the swing states, it is deeply unlikely that a recount would change the impending outcome of the presidential election.