“I ask for a recount!” hit the headlines during the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Twenty years later, President Trump and his administration called for the same after Joe Biden was officially appointed as the nation’s president-elect. How often do recounts occur? Can you change the outcome of an election? Are recount laws the same in every state? Today we’re looking at recounts and how much (or how little) they affect the bottom line of an election.
Supporting Al Gore and George W. Bush in the Supreme Court in 2000
Before considering a recount, it is a good starting point to understand the basic steps involved in counting votes, which are the same process in each state. The first step is for polling officers to verify eligibility against the requirements for postal ballot papers or when voters check in at polling stations. Once all ballots are cast, they will be counted and the unofficial results announced to the public. The election results then go through the acquisition and certification processes. During the acquisition process, state and local officials confirm the validity of ballot papers. The results of the acquisition will then be used when the election officials confirm the final election results.
What is a recount?
A recount is an official process in which the votes cast in an election are re-tabulated to confirm the accuracy of the final results. Election counts can be done from local to state to presidential level. In the case of presidential elections, recounts must be done at the state level.
Why and how do recounts come about?
Recounts can be done either automatically or at the request of voters or a candidate (usually the one who lost) in the event of potential administrative errors, electoral fraud, or a tight race.
The U.S. electoral administration is reported to be an underfunded program that can lead to administrative errors due to lack of resources, equipment malfunctions and long turnaround times. Election officials appealed to Congress for support following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. States received $ 400 million in funding, significant enough to expand choice and prepare for unprecedented changes in the electoral process. Despite doubts about election security, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that election fraud is very rare and that US elections have become safer over the past 4 years. When it comes to finishing races, states need a narrow margin of maneuver – either a percentage or a number of votes – to initiate a recount.
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Do recount laws differ from state to state?
They do it for sure! From November 2020 eighteen states have at least one law that triggers an automatic recount if the results are within a narrow margin of agreement. Five states have a law that requires an automatic recount in the event of a tie while four states require automatic recounts in the event of discrepancies.
For requested recounts, forty three states including Washington DC have laws allowing candidates, voters, or other interested parties to be lost to request a recount. In the meantime, some states allow a requested recount within a certain range of votes, while other states allow requested recounts only for election purposes and not for candidate races.
Are recounts common?
Not as much as you think FairVote conducted a study of 4,687 national parliamentary elections between 2000 and 2015. There were only 27 national recounts and 15 (only 58% of the national elections!) Were considered a “consequence”. FairVote found the same thing in subcategories in statewide elections with only 3 recounts out of 808 elections for governor, lieutenant governor, state secretary, attorney general and treasurer. Result reversals are even less likely than recounts. The study reported only 3 reversals out of 15 consecutive counts.