Chris Helps, of Earlham, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Adel, Iowa. (AP Photo…
FILE - Chris Helps of Earlham, Iowa, fills out his ballot during early voting in Adel, Iowa, Oct. 20, 2020.

As several U.S. states continued counting ballots from Tuesday’s national election, the state of Georgia announced Friday that it would hold a recount of the votes given the razor-thin margins that separate President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

How long each state’s recount could take depends on several factors, including litigation and other disputes.

However, there are two December deadlines to keep in mind. December 8, or the “safe harbor deadline,” is the date by which states must settle any election controversies or risk congressional involvement. On December 14, the Electoral College votes.

If a state has lingering disputes after December 14, the state legislatures choose their own electors to decide the state’s winner.

If no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes, Congress, under the 14th Amendment, selects the next president on January 6.

Here’s how recounts work in the states most likely to have them in coming days:


A recount is automatically triggered if the margin is less than or equal to 0.1% of the votes cast.

A recall cannot be directly requested by voters or candidates. Voters can contest election results through the state court system if they feel there was misconduct.

There is no set deadline to complete a recount.

Arizona jurisdictions pay for the cost of a recount.


Candidates can request a recount if the margin falls below 0.5% of the total votes cast.

The recount must be requisitioned within two business days after the election results are certified.

It is unclear who pays recount costs.


Recounts are triggered automatically if the difference between candidates is 2,000 votes or fewer. A candidate may also request a recount if he or she has a reasonable chance of winning.

A request must be made within 48 hours of the initial vote certification.

The requesting candidate pays for the recount.


There is no automatically triggered recount, but a candidate or voters may request one, no matter the margins.

A recount must be requested within three days of the vote certification.

The requesting candidate covers the recount costs.

North Carolina

North Carolina does not have an automatic trigger for a recount. A campaign may request one if the margin is within 0.5% of votes cast.

The request must be made within two days of the vote certification.

State law does not say who pays for a recount.


If a margin is within 0.5% of the total votes cast, an automatic recount would be started.

If three voters attest to an error or fraud, they can go to state court and file a petition for a recount.

If the recount is triggered by a candidate request, that candidate pays for it.


If the margin is less than or equal to 1%, the losing candidate can force a recount. Anything larger, and there is no recount.

A request must be filed on the first day after the vote certification.

If the margin is more than 0.25%, the requesting candidate pays for the recount.

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.