With just a few tenths of a percentage point separating Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, it may be weeks before we know who won.
There are still thousands of votes left to be counted — largely absentee ballots that will be processed slowly in the coming days.
And once those votes are tallied, the race is likely headed to a recount — a process that could drag into early June, according to state law.
Here is what you need to know about Pennsylvania’s still-uncalled GOP Senate primary.
What is left to count?
The Pennsylvania Department of State told the Philadelphia Inquirer that there were still over 100,000 mail ballots that have yet to be included in the state’s results. While the State Department was unable to say how many of those were Republican ballots, about 21 percent of the counted mail ballots for Senate were in the GOP primary. If the same rate holds, that works out to more than 20,000 outstanding GOP votes.
There are also some counties still reporting in-person votes as well, but those numbers are likely smaller than the remaining mail votes.
Why does counting these ballots take longer?
The reason it’s taking more time to count the mail ballots is likely due to Pennsylvania state law. By law, county election officials cannot process mail ballots in the state until Election Day.
There are a lot of steps involved in “pre-processing” mail ballots — everything from physically removing ballots from multiple envelopes to verifying that they were cast by a valid voter — and counting them, which means it tends to be a slow and time-consuming task compared to tallying votes that were cast in person.
This was an especially acute issue in Pennsylvania in 2020, when the state experienced an unprecedented flood of mail voters due to the pandemic and a new state law allowing any voter to vote by mail without an excuse.
Former President Donald Trump used this time lag to spread conspiracy theories about his loss in the 2020 election, as the counting of the mail ballots — which skewed heavily Democratic because Trump’s attacks on mail voting turned off his supporters from the practice — added to Joe Biden’s tally.
Trump is already trying to run back the same playbook again this year. On Wednesday, he encouraged Oz — his endorsed candidate — to “declare victory” in a post on his social media site, falsely suggesting election officials might “find” votes to swing the results.
This is why many states allow for pre-Election Day processing of mail ballots, but Pennsylvania is not one of them. In a statement Tuesday evening, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania’s chief election official, said she expected counties to count the majority of their ballots “within a few days.”
Most mail ballots in Pennsylvania have to be returned by the time polls close on election night, Tuesday at 8 p.m., to be counted. Some ballots from military and overseas voters can be counted if they are mailed by Election Day and received later, but those are typically only a tiny proportion of the total ballots cast.
And what about a recount?
Pennsylvania law requires an automatic statewide recount if the top two candidates in a race are within half a percentage point of each other, which Oz and McCormick currently are.
The secretary of state will make that determination by “the second Thursday following the day of the election,” which would be May 26.
The recount would be run by the individual counties, and it would have to start no later than June 1 and be completed by noon on June 7. Counties would have to submit results to the state by June 8. (Non-recounted races need to be certified by June 6.)
Recounts rarely change the results of elections, even incredibly close ones. Races with margins even in the low thousands usually hold. But in the closest of elections, small shifts in the corrected count can have an effect on the eventual winner.
The Associated Press will generally not project a winner in races that could go to, or are actively in, a recount. Instead, the news service will wait for official results.
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