How Many State Vote Recounts Does Hillary Clinton Need To Win To Swing The Electoral College? It's An Uphill Battle

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a concession speech after being defeated by Republican presidential-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 9, 2016. / AFP / JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Following the news of the possibility of election recounts in a number of swing state, there has been some hopeful thinking among some that maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump will not end up president come January. But how many recounts would Hillary Clinton need to win to become president-elect? Wisconsin is the only state that has agreed to a recount so far, but she would need to turn over multiple states to change the elect outcome.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is working to file for recounts in three major states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. She found success in Wisconsin, with the election commission there agreeing to a statewide recount last Friday. And she is making headway in the fight to recount Pennsylvania. Michigan was set to certify its election results for Trump on Monday, but the recount is still expected to be requested by Stein. 

Many election laws have a provision that triggers an automatic recount in the event that the race is won by an extremely small margin. However, that doesn't apply in these cases, and Stein needs to be pushing these recounts on her own initiative if she wants them to occur. Stein has said reason for pursuing these recounts is that she wants to "ensure the integrity of our elections," as she stated on her website.

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But why those three states? First, because the margin that Donald Trump won those states by was relatively small. But secondly, because the total electoral votes of those three states would give Clinton the 270 she would need to flip the election outcome and become president-elect. 

At this point, the map sits at 306 electoral votes for Trump and 232 for Clinton. So to change the election results, Clinton would need to win recounts in enough states to garner her at least 38 electoral votes. Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes, Michigan has 16, and Pennsylvania has 20. Successful recounts in those three states would hand Clinton the presidency.

So what is the precedent here? The odds are not in Clinton's favor. FiveThirtyEight reported that over the last 15 years,  just 27 statewide general elections out of 4,687 were recounted. And of those 27, just three resulted in a change in the election outcome. The amount of votes that do change are usually not enough to affect the outcome, which Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias acknowledged in a Medium post over the weekend, saying that the campaign was "aware that the number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states  —  Michigan  —  well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount."

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While Clinton's campaign has agreed to support Stein's recount push, it doesn't seem that they are holding their breath for a different outcome.

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