How states decide whether to recount election results

A California lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation overhauling the state’s election recount policies in light of what so far is a 15-county recount in the controller’s race.

John A. Pérez, a Democratic assemblyman from Los Angeles, requested a recount after losing the controller’s race by 481 votes to Betty Yee (D). California is one of 46 states that allows either a candidate, voter, or election official to request a recount, according to data from Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under California law, the cost of the recount is paid by whoever files the request — in this case, Pérez. If he wins, however, he would get his money back.

The law has been criticized for its lack of parameters. Because any voter can file and pay for a recount in any of California’s 22,353 precincts, candidates and their opponents could chose only areas where they expect to do well, as Pérez has done, according to an analysis from The Sacramento Bee. 

 Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a San Mateo Democrat who plans to introduce legislation reforming California’s recount procedure, called the controller’s recount “unchartered territory.”

“It’s imperative to our system of governance that the election process is fair and transparent for all voters and candidates,” he said in a statement. “We are actively researching a variety of options and engaging in discussions with the Secretary of State’s office so we can craft comprehensive legislation on the issue.”

Some of the options Mullin is considering is a threshold of how close election results must be before automatically triggering a recount. Twenty states currently have have a close vote margin trigger. In Alaska, South Dakota, Texas, a tie is needed to trigger a recount (in 35 states, you’re actually supposed to flip a coin or draw lots if an election is tied. You can see which ones here), but in other states, recounts are triggered if election results are close. Mullin also said he’s considering making the state responsible for paying for the cost of recounts. It’s estimated a statewide hand recount would cost $3 million.

 

Hunter Schwarz covers state and local politics and policy across the country for the Washington Post.
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