At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin previews what a recount would look like in Ohio. Forget not having a clear winner tonight — if the election comes down to a dispute over a few thousand votes in Ohio, we might not have a clear winner until after Thanksgiving:
In recent elections, Ohio voters have cast about two hundred thousand provisional ballots in major statewide contests. (Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about whether they are entitled to vote. The provisional ballot kicks the issue of the validity of the ballot down the road.) This year, the number may well grow. …
So what happens with the provisional ballots? According to Ohio law, the eighty-eight counties in the state are not even allowed to start counting the provisional ballots for ten days. In the meantime, those who cast provisional ballots are allowed to submit evidence that their votes should count—they can, for example, show forms of identification that they might not have brought with them to the polls on November 6th.
This scenario isn’t necessarily a long-shot, either. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 200,000 votes in Ohio. Based on the early voting numbers and polls that show Ohio as a statistical tie, that margin is likely to shrink this time around. According to Toobin, provisional ballots have tended to number around 200,000 in recent Ohio elections, and there’s reason to think that might be higher this year.