Pa. Republican Senate candidates David McCormick, left, and Mehmet Oz

? Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate is going to a recount.

Over a week after the election, GOP voters still don’t know who their party’s nominee will be for the Senate seat being vacated by Pat Toomey. On the Democratic side, it’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who won handily.

But the other major party’s race has come down to fewer than 1,000 votes between the two leading candidates — heart surgeon-turned-TV personality Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick.

The tight contest has sparked a heated debate that’s turned into a legal battle over whether to count certain mail ballots. (Yes, again.) Neither of the candidates had pre-emptively declared themselves winner until Friday morning, when Oz — who had been pressured by Donald Trump to claim victory — put out a video calling himself “the presumptive nominee.”

Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman gave official notice of the Oz-McCormick Senate recount Wednesday afternoon. Here’s what you need to know about the process.

How close is the race?

As of Wednesday, Oz has 902 more votes than McCormick. No other Republican candidate is close.

Who decided there’s a recount?

A recount is triggered in Pennsylvania when the difference between votes for each candidate is within 0.5% of the total vote count. This is the seventh time that’s happened since the law that requires it was enacted in 2004.

For the GOP Senate primary, the total vote count is roughly 1.3 million, so the threshold for a recount is a 6.7k-vote margin of victory. The candidate in second place, in this case McCormick, could have chosen to waive his right to a recount. He did not.

So the original vote count is complete?

Nope.

Somewhere around 10k May primary votes are left to be counted in Pennsylvania — but not all of them are Republican. Some of them might not end up counting in any race.

Statewide, there are around 4k total absentee ballots left to be counted from all parties, as well as around 6k provisional ballots that still need to be adjudicated by county boards of election, per Pa. Deputy Election Secretary Jonathan Marks. The department didn’t provide the party breakdown of those ballots at a Wednesday press briefing.

The absentee ballot figure includes military and overseas ballots, which county election boards couldn’t begin canvassing until yesterday, according to Marks.

The provisional ballots are meant to allow voters whose eligibility is uncertain to cast a vote, and they’re kept separate from other ballots until each voter’s eligibility is confirmed by election officials. Some of the provisional ballots might not ultimately count if the voters who cast them mixed up their party registration or weren’t eligible to vote at all in the first place.

The Department of State expects that counties will finish tallying those remaining absentee and provisional ballots as part of the initial vote count before they start the recounting process.

What’s the deal with ‘undated mail ballots’? Will they be counted?

When you fill out a mail ballot in Pennsylvania, you have to sign and date a voter declaration on the outer envelope. But sometimes voters forget to include the date when they sign the envelope, and that’s created vagueness for counties in figuring out whether those ballots should be counted.

A federal court ruled last week that undated ballots should be counted in a close November 2021 judicial race in Lehigh County where a winner has yet to be decided.

As for the current primary, the Pa. Department of State instructed counties to count ballots without the proper date, but it also noted that they should keep them separated from other ballots “out of an abundance of caution.” (The federal court’s decision might be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

McCormick and his campaign have filed petitions in the the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court to make counties count the undated ballots in the Republican Senate primary, arguing that not doing so would “gratuitously disenfranchise qualified Pennsylvania voters who have cast otherwise valid ballots on a timely basis.”

Oz, the national Republican Party, and the Pa. Republican Party are all opposing McCormick’s effort to have those ballots counted. So far, the mail ballots that have been counted favor McCormick over Oz.

A hearing in the Commonwealth Court case has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 31.

How many undated mail ballots are there?

As of now, 65 of 67 counties are reporting a total of 860 Republican and 4,190 Democratic ballots without the correct date, said Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman. Only the Republican ballots are relevant to the Oz/McCormick contest.

There are just over 2k undated mail ballots from Philadelphia, and city election officials have voted in favor of counting those ballots.

How will the recount work? How long will it take?

Chapman will formally order a recount Thursday, and then counties have the green light to start their re-tallying on Friday. During the recount, county election boards have to use a different counting device than they initially used, or they can recount by hand. Candidates and their representatives have the right to observe the process as it occurs.

Each county’s tally needs to be completed by noon on June 7. After that, counties have until noon on June 8 to submit results to the Pa. Department of State.

Will any other races be affected by this recount?

No. All other races not subject to recount are set to be certified on June 6.

Avatar photo

Asha Prihar

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...