Updated | As of Thursday afternoon, three states remain electoral toss-ups, according to Associated Press projections: New Hampshire, Michigan and Arizona. (Update: On Thursday night, the AP projected Donald Trump the winner in Arizona.) If Hillary Clinton wins the combined 31 electoral votes from those states, she will still be short of Donald Trump’s 279 votes, more than the 270 needed to win the presidency.
However, AP analyst Michael McDonald, who teaches political science at the University of Florida and runs the United States Elections Project, an election statistics website, says he is skeptical that Trump won Wisconsin, as the AP projected. If that state flips for Clinton and she wins the other toss-up states, she and Trump could be in a tie at 269 votes each.
“Maybe Clinton actually wins Wisconsin,” McDonald says. “Look, just because the media calls something does not mean that that’s actually the outcome of the election.”
There is one caveat, McDonald notes: faithless electors. It’s rare, but members of the Electoral College sometimes break their pledges about whom they planned to vote for. There have been 157 faithless electors since the founding of the Electoral College in 1787, according to the nonprofit FairVote.
But if Trump and Clinton remained tied after the Electoral College casts its ballots in December, it would be up to Congress to decide who becomes president. That scenario has played out two times, in 1800 and in 1824, according to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
On Thursday, Arizona’s secretary of state reported that Trump held the lead there with 49.64 percent of the vote, compared with Clinton’s 45.3 percent, and the vote differential was 85,257, with 99.9 percent of precincts reporting. Meanwhile, the number of ballots that, as of Wednesday, had not been counted, such as early and provisional ballots, was 627,000, the secretary of state’s office tells Newsweek. “There’s enough uncertainty there that Clinton could possibly overtake Trump,” McDonald says. (According to CNN projections, Trump won the state.)
In New Hampshire, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton received 47.5 percent of the vote, compared with 47.3 percent for Trump, the Associated Press said. But a Clinton win there is not a sure thing; the difference of just 1,614 votes between the candidates could be within the margin for a candidate to request a recount. That can happen when the difference between the votes is less than 20 percent in the area to be recounted. (CNN called New Hampshire for Clinton.)
In Michigan, the secretary of state reported 47.6 percent for Trump and 47.3 percent for Clinton, with 100 percent of counties reporting—and a differential of 13,107 votes. In 2012, Michigan reported 2,675 provisional ballots, so the 2016 number could be similar. The addition of that many votes would not necessarily meet the margin of 2,000 votes or less that the state requires for an automatic recount. Still, McDonald says, “there will be some provisional ballots, and Clinton might be able to overtake the lead there.”
Then there is Wisconsin, which the AP called for Trump. McDonald is skeptical, given that the vote differential there between the candidates is only 27,257, the AP projected. The recount range there, he says, is 0.5 percent, and with enough outstanding provisional ballots, a new count could be necessary.
But Clinton conceded the race. Could she still become president? “A concession is not legally binding,” says Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center. He notes that Al Gore initially conceded to George W. Bush in 2000 and later retracted the concession and challenged the election results.
McDonald says Trump has most likely won the election, but more work must be done behind the scenes in those toss-up states. “They’re just making their lists and checking it twice,” he says.
This article has been updated to include information about whether a political concession is binding. It was later updated again after the Associated Press projected the outcome for Arizona, to note that projection.