Virginia Board of Elections employees count the receipts from voting machines in 2006 in Richmond. It’s possible the state could see a recount in its Senate race this year.
It’s the seven-letter word that operatives and politicians dread: recount. The process can drag out an expensive race long past Election Day.
Just ask Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who officially won his seat after eight months of legal wrangling in a recount following the 2008 elections. The process is even more common in House races — several of which had recounts in 2010.
The recount process varies by state, which is why national parties already have attorneys on standby in key battlegrounds. Here’s your guide to the process in states with top Senate races and “orphan states” where there are many competitive House races but nothing else of note at the top of the ticket.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) vs. Rep. Jeff Flake (R)
The threshold: There’s an automatic recount if the margin between the top two candidates is equal to or less than one-tenth of 1 percent, or if the margin is less than 200 votes for statewide office. The process: The courts order county recorders to start the recount process, which includes resetting the machines and retabulating results via a process approved by the secretary of state. The fine print: The candidates can’t request a recount. The automatic recount is the only recount permitted under state law.
Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) vs. state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R)
The threshold: Either a candidate, party chairman or voter must file for a recount. The deadline is 14 days after the election. The process: It’s run by a three-member commission that includes a Republican, a Democrat and the secretary of state (currently a Republican). The fine print: The petitioner must specify which precincts should be recounted. The cost is $10 per precinct, plus a $100 deposit, if the final margin is less than 1 percent. The cost increases if the margin is greater than that.
The threshold: The candidates can request a recount with the secretary of state before Friday, Nov. 30. The process: The initiator, usually a candidate, selects 5 percent of precincts within each of the chosen counties. If there’s a significant discrepancy with the reported vote totals, the candidate can request a full hand recount. The fine print: The recount requestor must pay for the estimated cost of the recount at the outset.
The threshold: Only a certified tie triggers an automatic recount. However, the unsuccessful candidate can request a recount at the state’s expense if the margin is less than a quarter of 1 percent. The process: County election administrators must announce a recount and give the public an opportunity to observe the process. In a hand recount, the candidates can challenge individual ballots, then a recount board can set aside questionable ballots for later review. The fine print: The apparent unsuccessful candidate can request a recount at their own expense if the margin is between a quarter and a half of 1 percent.
Rep. Rick Berg (R) vs. former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D)
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