“I demand a recount!” made headlines during the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. 20 years later, President Trump and his administration demanded the same after Joe Biden’s official call as the nation’s president-elect. How often do the stories occur? Can they change the outcome of an election? Are the counting laws the same in all states? Today we dive into counts and how much (or how little) they affect the final results of an election.
Before a count is an option, it is a good starting point to understand basic steps to count votes which is the same process in all states. The first step is for election officials to verify voter eligibility through the requirements of mailed ballots or while registering voters at the polls. Once all ballots are cast, they are counted and the unofficial results are announced to the public. The results of the elections then go through the processes of scrutiny and certification. Counting is how state and local officials confirm the validity of ballots. The results of the count are then used when election officials certify the final results of the elections.
What is a count?
A count is a official process in which the votes cast in an election are re-tabulated to confirm the accuracy of the final results. Election counts can occur from the local to state and presidential levels. In the case of presidential elections, the recounts must be done at the state level.
Why and how do the stories occur?
Recounts can occur automatically or at the request of the voters or a candidate (usually the one who lost) in cases of possible clerical errors, voter fraud, or a close race.
The U.S. Election Administration reported that it is an underfunded program which can result in administrative errors due to lack of resources, equipment malfunction and long processing times. After the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials asked Congress for help. States received $ 400 million in funding, which was significant enough to help expand voting options and prepare for the unprecedented changes in electoral processes. Despite concerns about electoral security, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that electoral fraud is very rare and the US elections have achieved safer in the last 4 years. When it comes to closed elections, states require a narrow voting margin, either a percentage or a number of votes, to initiate a recount.
Do the counting laws differ from state to state?
They sure do! As of November 2020, eighteen states Have at least one law that activates an automatic count if the results are within a close voting margin. Five states have a law that requires an automatic recount in the event of a tie while four states require automatic counts in case of discrepancies.
In order to counts requested, forty three states even Washington DC has laws that allow losing candidates, voters, or other stakeholders to request a recount. Meanwhile, some states allow a requested recount within a certain vote margin, while other states allow requested recount only for ballot measures and not for candidate contests.
Are the counts common?
Not as much as you think. FairVote conducted a study between 2000 and 2015 of 4,687 state general elections. There were only 27 counts statewide and 15 (only 58% of elections statewide!) Were deemed “consistent.” FairVote found the same within the subcategories in state elections with only 3 consistent counts out of 808 elections for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer. Outcome changes are even less likely than stories. The study reported only 3 reversals out of 15 consequent reports.