A brief history of recounts

What are recounts, when do they happen and what is the usual result?

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Q: What is a recount?

A: A recount is a repeat tabulation of votes cast in an election that is used to determine the correctness of an initial count. Recounts will often take place if the initial vote tally during an election is extremely close. Election recounts can result in changes in contest tallies. Errors can be found or introduced from human factors, such as transcription errors, or machine errors, or misreads of paper ballots. Alternately, tallies may change because of a reinterpretation of voter intent.

So basically when a race is close or someone asks for it, the will go through and count all the ballots again.

Q: How frequently do recounts happen?

A: Recounts are rare.

Between 2000 and 2019 there were 5,778 statewide elections, and there were 31 recounts in that time.

So recounts happened in 0.53% or half of 1 percent of total elections. 57 recounts would be 1% of elections resulting in a recount.

Q: How often do recounts change the initial election result?

A: Of those 31 recounts, only 3 resulted in a change of the initial election result. Those 3 were the:

  1. 2004 Washington gubernatorial election
  2. 2006 Vermont Auditor of Accounts election
  3. 2008 United States Senate election in Minnesota

On average, recounts change votes by about 430 votes, and not always for the group who wants the recount.

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Q: What are the rules for when a recount happens?

A: Each state has different rules. There is usually a requirement that the difference between candidates is smaller than 1% of votes cast or a fixed number. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists the various rules here:

In my current state of Utah for example, the rule is a losing candidate can request a recount, if the difference between the number of votes cast for a winning candidate in the race and a losing candidate in the race is equal to or less than .25% of the total number of votes cast for all candidates in the race. There is another rule if the number of votes cast is 400 or less.

The largest margin shift ever in a recount was .11% in a statewide race, well below what Trump would need to flip any of the states he needs to win. In Pennsylvania, for example, Trump is losing the race by nearly 50,000 votes, or .67%, and the margin continues to grow.

Q: What is the most famous election recount?

A: 2000 US Presidential in Florida. That race was won by only 537 votes. More info here.

Sources:

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Code, design, cook. Make stuff. Cookies. @BYU grad.

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