June 13, 2018 – Across the Potomac in Maryland, a recount is currently underway in the Baltimore County primary race for County Executive, where the winner won by a razor thin margin of nine votes. Recounts are also expected in close races in Montgomery and Howard Counties.
You may recall that a number of recounts took place in a couple of close Virginia House of Delegates races following the Nov. 2017 election.
So how are Virginia recounts different from Maryland recounts? Recounts are all the same, right – don’t you just recount the voted ballots?
Wrong. There are a number of key differences in the way recounts are conducted in Virginia and Maryland.
First, though, a similarity: Unlike 19 states and DC, neither Virginia nor Maryland law permits automatic recounts.
In Virginia, a recount may be requested by the losing candidate if the difference is less than one percent (.99% or below). For a referendum question, if the difference is less than 50 votes, 50 citizens qualified to vote in the election may petition for a recount.
Virginia law requires all ballots for the office or item in question to be run through the tabulators, which are reprogrammed to only count the specified contest. All ballots that are not clearly marked are rejected and set aside for hand-counting, determined using specific rules established to determine voter intent. Sometimes on Election Day a voter may not properly mark their ballot – for example, perhaps they circled the name rather than marking the oval/box. That ballot may be viewed by the tabulator as an undervote. In a recount situation, those ballots are examined manually and tallied based on voter intent. This is why candidate totals sometimes change during recounts.
The rules are a little different – and complicated – in Maryland, where any losing candidate may petition for a recount. The candidate may also specify the type of recount:
- A manual tabulation of all the results reports from the tabulators that were produced on Election Day. This doesn’t involve a review of the ballots.
- A rescan of all voted ballots, which is how Virginia conducts recounts.
- A manual recount of the paper ballots.
- A recount of selected precincts. Presumably this would be a viable option if only the results of specific precincts are called into question.
In Baltimore County, the losing candidate requested a manual recount of the 85,000 ballots cast in the primary. The recount began on Thursday, June 12 and is expected to take about five days. In contrast, last year the various Virginia recounts took one day or less.
It’s always interesting to look at differences. Citizens for Election Integrity – Minnesota has a good searchable database on different state recount procedures if you want more information.