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Of all the scenarios we considered over more than a year covering this Senate race, this one wasn’t on the list.
The recount in the primary between Mehmet Oz and David McCormick got going in earnest this week, with county elections officials going about the painstaking work of re-tabulating results and making final decisions about how to count any ballots whose markings — like a half-filled bubble — might have tripped up a machine.
We won’t get final results until next week, but here’s what to expect as the process plays out, with a big help from our expert colleagues Jonathan Lai (on election administration) and Jeremy Roebuck (on the legal battle).
What’s the starting point?
The initial count found Oz leading McCormick by a little less than 1,000 votes, out of more than 1.3 million cast — less than one-tenth of one percentage point. It’s rare for a recount to change the initial result. But it’s also rare to have such a close contest, and recounts do often find minor counting errors (errors, not fraud) in the initial tally. Usually those blips are far too small to have any effect on the outcomes — but in this case, it wouldn’t take much to flip the result.
Also, the McCormick campaign is requesting a hand recount in 150 precincts across 12 counties. It’s unclear if that will happen and how quickly, but it adds another wrinkle and potential delay in reaching a conclusion.
Why will the vote totals change?
Each county is recounting their ballots on different machines from the ones they used for the initial count. This could change the totals somewhat, since some tiny fraction of ballots might have been counted incorrectly. For example, if someone filled in half a bubble for one candidate, and then a full bubble for another, the scanner might tally that vote for the wrong candidate. In a recount, those ballots can get a review from actual people who might detect the error.
Will we get updates on how it’s going?
Some counties will report their updated numbers as the process goes on. Others might wait until it’s finished before reporting their final findings. So, just like on election night, we’ll get partial views of the progress, and if one candidate is benefiting, but not the full picture until it’s complete. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, isn’t releasing numbers until the recount is done. And the Associated Press isn’t declaring a winner until then.
What about those undated ballots?
These ballots provided one more twist in a campaign season full of them, when a federal court ruled on a dispute from a completely different election last year, saying mail ballots on which voters failed to date the mailing envelopes should be counted if they were received on time. But it’s ultimately a tiny handful of votes at stake, about 860 GOP votes statewide. We’re expecting a Commonwealth Court ruling soon to decide if they get counted in the Senate race. But late yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the original ruling — injecting a whole new layer of uncertainty.
When will we know who won?
The recount has to be finished by noon on Tuesday, and the final results should be reported the next day.
Overheard on the campaign trail
“It sure as hell isn’t freedom when he tells you, you can vote, but he’ll pick the winner. That’s not freedom.”
—Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, opening his general election campaign against State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee, during a speech in Johnstown last week.
(Not) from the campaign trail
Usually the end of a primary brings a quick pivot to the general election. Everyone’s exhausted, but they at least try to set the initial narratives and candidate contrasts. Count that as just one more way this Pennsylvania Senate race has been so unusual.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, has been off the trail entirely as he recovers from a stroke and the implantation of a combination defibrillator-pacemaker, with no clear sign of when he’ll be back in the public eye. Questions remain unanswered about his health.
Meanwhile, the GOP is effectively frozen during the recount.
Either one of those developments could seem ripped from some melodramatic political TV drama. Instead, we’ve got them both at the same time.
It leaves us waiting to even find out the match up in one of the country’s most important Senate races.
But next week — surely next week! — Pennsylvania will follow the normal script and finish the recount and give us a result.
We’ll be back here next Wednesday to break it down either way. In the meantime, enjoy some sun.