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A Recount Probably Won’t Change The Winner Of The North Carolina Governor’s Race

The number of recounts (or requested recounts) of results from this month’s elections keeps climbing — but none of the affected races are close enough that a recount is likely to change the result.

In the highest-profile race that hasn’t been conceded, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is requesting a recount of the state’s gubernatorial votes. McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, has claimed victory. But McCrory has not given in, and his allies have challenged the results in dozens of counties. The Republican candidate in North Carolina’s auditor race also plans to seek a recount, according to the executive director of the state’s Republican Party. And Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who ran for president in some states, including Nevada, is filing for a recount there. Add it to the three states where Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is seeking recounts in the presidential election: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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In all six of these races, the leading candidate’s margin over the apparent runner-up is far bigger than the typical amount by which statewide recounts swing races. In the closest race, the North Carolina state auditor’s race, Beth Wood leads Chuck Stuber by more than 5,000 votes. In the race with the widest margin, Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by more than 70,000 votes in Pennsylvania. But none of the 27 statewide recounts since 2000 has changed the margin in a race by even 2,000 votes, according to data compiled by FairVote, a nonpartisan group that researches elections and advocates for changes to the electoral system, for a report that it published on Wednesday. And recounts don’t always tighten races; more than half the time, the leader’s margin grew as a result of the recount. (See data on all 27 recounts at the end of the post.)

On a percentage basis, too, the recounts look unlikely to change the outcomes. The average recount since 2000 changed the margin by 0.02 percentage points; in the closest of the six 2016 races that might be recounted, the two top candidates are separated by 0.13 percentage points, a far wider margin.1

VOTES MARGIN
STATE RACE LEADING PARTY LEADER RUNNER-UP TOTAL PERCENTAGE POINTS
NC Auditor D 2,259,273 2,253,309 5,964 0.13
NC Governor D 2,309,123 2,298,865 10,258 0.22
MI President R 2,279,543 2,268,839 10,704 0.24
WI President R 1,404,000 1,381,823 22,177 0.80
PA President R 2,945,302 2,874,136 71,166 1.22
NV President D 539,260 512,058 27,202 2.59
The six contested races aren’t all that close

Vote totals as of 4:45 p.m. Nov. 30, 2016. Percentage-point margins are based on the two-party vote, which excludes votes for candidates other than the top two vote-getters.

Source: State election agencies

Some of those calling for recounts are claiming that this year’s elections weren’t typical. If that’s the case, typical recount results might not apply. For instance, if voting machines were hacked or if large numbers of votes were cast by people who were ineligible (either because of felony convictions or because they cast early ballots and then died before Election Day), vote totals could have been affected by more than the amount that a typical recount uncovers. But there’s no evidence that any of that happened. And it’s not clear what recounts would uncover. Recount processes vary by state, and recounts often fall short of what advocates of full-scale, routine audits would like to see happen to ensure that only eligible voters participate and that their votes are counted accurately. Meanwhile, fewer than half of respondents to presidential exit polls said they were “very confident” in the vote count, and that was before President-elect Donald Trump claimed, with no evidence, that millions of people “voted illegally” for Hillary Clinton.

VOTE MARGIN
YEAR STATE ELECTION ORIGINAL FINAL PERCENTAGE-POINT DIFF.
2000 CO State education board 1,211 90 0.073
2000 FL U.S. president 1,784 537 0.021
2000 MT Superintendent of public instruction 64 61 0.005
2000 WA Secretary of state 10,489 10,222 0.012
2000 WA U.S. Senate 1,953 2,229 0.012
2004 AL Amendment 2 1,850 1,846 0.000
2004 AK U.S. Senate 9,568 9,349 0.085
2004 GA Court of Appeals 348 363 0.004
2004 WA Governor 261 -129 0.014
2004 WY Amendment A 25,221 25,276 0.006
2004 WY Amendment C 13,959 14,009 0.011
2005 VA Attorney general 323 360 0.002
2006 AL Constitutional amendment 2,642 3,150 0.063
2006 NC Court of Appeals 3,416 3,466 0.002
2006 VT Auditor of accounts 137 -102 0.107
2008 MN U.S. Senate 215 -225 0.018
2008 OR Measure 53 550 681 0.013
2009 PA Superior Court 83,693 83,974 0.010
2010 NC Court of Appeals 5,988 6,655 0.061
2010 AZ Proposition 112 128 194 0.004
2010 MN Governor 8,856 8,770 0.005
2011 WI Supreme Court 7,316 7,004 0.021
2013 VA Attorney general 165 907 0.034
2014 MO Constitutional amendment 2,067 2,375 0.031
2014 NM Public land commissioner 656 704 0.010
2014 NC Supreme Court 5,427 5,410 0.001
2014 OR Ballot initiative 802 837 0.002
Average 7,003 6,963 0.023
Statewide recounts since 2000 have overturned only 3 elections

All elections are for state office unless otherwise noted. Percentage-point margins are based on the two-party vote, which excludes votes for candidates other than the top two vote-getters.

Source: FairVote

Footnotes

  1. These are the margins on a percentage-point basis within the total two-party vote, so excluding all votes for candidates other than the Republican or Democrat.

Carl Bialik is FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

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