What does the recount process look like in Pennsylvania?

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania is among a handful of states in the spotlight as the vote count continues in the Presidential election. All indications are it could be heading toward legal challenges and possibly recounts.

11 Investigates reviewed election law and talked to legal experts to break down how a recount would work in Pennsylvania.

Automatic Recount

In Pennsylvania, an automatic recount would be triggered if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent.

University of Pittsburgh Political Science Professor Kris Kanthak says it’s a real possibility if the race remains as close as it’s been.

“It’s possible if it’s super-close, meaning closer than 2016,” said Kanthak. “I think it will be right on the line.”

For context, in 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by about 44,000 votes. That election did not trigger a recount. However, if the margin of victory in our current election is less than 0.5%, the Secretary of the Commonwealth would call for an automatic recount.

The margins in the Trump/Biden race are tight, but Pittsburgh attorney Cliff Levine, who represents the Biden campaign, says there is still a lot of counting to go.

“The recount is really the last step. We have multiple steps to go.” said Levine.

Voters can file for recount

If a candidate wants to call for a recount, they cannot do it on their own. The way the system works they need three voters in each district they challenge to do it on their behalf. The voters must file a petition with their County Board of Elections before the vote count is finished.

“There are 1000′s and 1000′s of districts, so you have to be somewhat judicious and look at areas where you really think there is a disparity or some inconsistency with what your expectation is,” Levine said.

The voters are required to pay a $100 bond for each challenge to discourage frivolous recounts. If their complaint is verified, the recount request is free.

“You’re essentially gambling on the probability that what you believe is fraud in your precinct is actually going on,” Kanthak said.

Take it to court

Another option is for voters to file a petition for a recount with the Court of Common Pleas, again, on behalf of a candidate. Three citizens must show the court evidence of fraud or errors in the vote count, which is where poll watchers become a part of the process.

“Both candidates have people watching the votes coming in and they’re saying something (is) wrong with that ballot and you shouldn’t count it, and if it gets counted anyway, they start a list,” said Kanthak.

It is rare for a challenge to go to the court, and there is a heavy burden to show that any fraud would actually change the outcome of the election.

“Think about a football game and wanting to nullify the game, not just a bad call or bad decision. You’ve got to show a level of fraud and abuse to play the game again,” said Levine.