Conor Lamb claimed victory early this morning in the long-awaited special congressional election in the 18th district of Pennsylvania. While news media outlets held off on making a call, and Republican candidate Rick Saccone has refused to concede (the National Republican Congressional Committee continues to express confidence that their man will win once “every legal vote is counted”), it’s actually pretty hard to see how Saccone can overcome Lamb’s 641-vote lead.
All 593 precincts have been counted. So have absentee ballots in the three larger counties in the district. Yes, absentee ballots have yet to be counted in low-population Greene County, but there are only an estimated 200 of them, and so far Lamb has been leading among absentee voters even in the Republican areas. There are an unknown (but pretty small) number of provisional ballots to count; those typically lean Democratic. And then there could be another tiny batch of overseas ballots, though one local expert suggested these would be “more college student semester abroad” votes than military votes.
Yes, Saccone can request a recount, though it’s not automatic. But in places like the 18th district with touchscreen voting machines, recounts rarely change much of anything; in 2016 the Green Party obtained recounts in 52 Allegheny County precincts, and the vote totals were unchanged.
So, frustrating as it may be for Republicans to lose by so narrow a margin, that’s where it’s headed unless they choose to muddy the waters by claiming some sort of “voter fraud” (the “every legal vote” terminology deployed by the NRCC might hint at that disreputable but hardy option). There were no signs of any irregularities on Tuesday. But that might not deter the president of the United States, who could at any moment offer his take on this election from his travels in California.