Briefing

The knock-down-drag-out Pennsylvania recount

The Oz vs. McCormick recount is going to get ugly

The close primary race between celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick, the top two Republicans vying for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat, is headed for a recount. Here's what you need to know:

How close is the election?

Very close. As of Monday morning, The New York Times had Oz leading McCormick 418,5545 to 417,478, a gap of only 1,067 votes. Around 1.34 million people voted in the state's GOP primary, meaning the margin separating the two is less than 0.08 percent.

State law triggers an automatic recount if the initial tallies for the top two candidates are less than half a percent apart.

How does the recount work?

The candidates have until noon on Wednesday to concede. If neither does (and neither is likely to), the recount must begin no later than June 1 and conclude no later than noon on June 7. By June 8, we'll have a winner — maybe. Jessica Huseman of Votebeat predicts that even after the recount, the two candidates will likely remain tied up in court, squabbling over the minutiae of the recount process.

Once everything is sorted out, either Oz or McCormick will then face Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in November's general election. Fetterman, a progressive former small-town mayor who previously ran for Senate in 2016, won the Democratic primary by a wide margin after suffering a stroke four days before the election. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Could the recount change the result?

They usually don't. According to a study by FairVote, 5,778 statewide races between 2000 and 2019 resulted in 31 recounts. Of those, only three overturned the original result. It's Oz's race to lose, especially since in all three, the initial margin of victory was less than 0.05 percent.

The largest margin shift identified in the FairVote analysis was 0.107 percent, which would be enough to give McCormick the win. The second largest was 0.076 percent, which would not.

What steps have the candidates taken?

On Saturday, Oz's campaign manager said it was "becoming obvious that [McCormick] is going to come up short" and accused McCormick's legal team of "following the Democrats' playbook." On Thursday, McCormick called in to a Philadelphia radio show to say he was confident the recount would end "with me in the win column" thanks to his advantage among mail-in voters.

According to The Associated Press, "[b]oth campaigns have hired Washington-based lawyers to lead their recount efforts, and both have hired Philadelphia-based campaign strategists who helped lead the operation to observe vote-counting on Election Day for Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2020."

Oz and McCormick have both deployed lawyers throughout the state to file lawsuits challenging decisions to count or not to count ballots that were filled out illegibly or irregularly. On Friday, a federal appeals court issued an order requiring Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, to count previously uncounted mail-in ballots that were submitted without the date written in. If the final ruling applies that order statewide, it could be enough to put McCormick over the top.

McCormick's team almost immediately fired off an email to election officials, asking them to "advise your respective boards to count any and all absentee or mail-in ballots that were timely received but were set aside/not counted simply because those ballots lacked a voter-provided date on the outside of the envelope." Those who failed to do so, the email continued, would be hearing from McCormick's lawyers.

Writing for The American Conservative, Curt Mills gave McCormick the edge, writing that he "had a superior ground game" and that "in a recount brawl, who wants it more counts." Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who endorsed McCormick, took to Twitter to suggest that "the counting of valid absentee ballots is very likely to put @DaveMcCormickPA on top."

What about Trump?

Since the election, Trump — who endorsed Oz in April — has fired off a flurry of posts on Truth Social questioning the integrity of Pennsylvania's GOP primary. "Dr. Oz should declare victory. It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they 'just happened to find,'" the former president wrote the day after the election. He groused the following day, "How long does it take to count votes. France, same day all paper, had VERIFIED numbers in evening. U.S. is a laughing stock on Elections. Stop FINDING VOTES in PENNSYLVANIA! RIGGED?" 

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board published a fierce denunciation of Trump's attempt to smear not just Democrats, but insufficiently loyal Republicans with accusations of election rigging. "By taking a political hatchet to Mr. McCormick, Mr. Trump could discourage Republicans from supporting him in November, giving away a winnable Senate seat," the board wrote. "Recall how Mr. Trump cost the GOP two Senate seats in Georgia's 2021 runoffs."

Trump didn't like that. "Why can't The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board recognize what a complete disaster our voting system is," he Truthed on Saturday. "Come on WSJ, put your RINO hatred of me away and get something right (for once!). Our Country is going to HELL!!!" Trump also proposed a solution: "Must END Mail-In Ballots and go to SAME DAY VOTING. Also, PAPER BALLOTS and our problems are solved."

The Journal offered a different answer. The editorial board explained that Pennsylvania "is notoriously slow to count mail ballots" because state law prohibits opening them before Election Day. The board agreed with Trump that having results on election night "is in the public interest" and called on Pennsylvania's state legislature to pass a bill allowing mail ballots to be counted a few days early.

How many more votes need to be counted?

As of Friday, between 10,000 and 15,000 mail-in votes remained uncounted, in addition to around 2,000 provisional ballots, a few military ballots, around 1,000 Election Day votes cast in Allegheny County, and a few hundred cast in and around Philadelphia. By the time the recount starts, McCormick might be in the lead.

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