Posted by FairVote on August 13, 2009 at 4:06 AM

This report examines statewide election recount outcomes and practices in the United States, using data from the decade of elections taking place in the years 2000 to 2009. Our findings provide a basis for observations on when recounts are necessary, provisions for model state laws on recounts and forecasts of recount scenarios in elections governed by a national popular vote.

Major findings include:

Statewide recounts are rare: Out of the 2,884 statewide general elections in the 2000 to 2009 decade, there were 18 statewide recounts, 11 of which were deemed “consequential” (with an original victory margin of no more than 0.15 percent). In other words, there was one recount for every 160 statewide elections and one consequential recount for every 262 statewide elections. This pattern was true of most subcategories of statewide elections as well, including only two consequential recounts out of the 422 elections in this period for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer.

Outcome reversals are even rarer: Over the 2000-2009 decade, recounts resulted in three reversals out of 11 consequential recounts, or one out of every 961 statewide elections. These reversals took place in the races for U.S. Senate in 2008 in Minnesota, auditor in 2006 in Vermont and governor in 2004 in Washington.

Margin shifts in recounts are small: Statewide recounts resulted in an average margin swing of 296 votes between the frontrunners, representing 0.027% of the statewide vote in those elections. The median average shift in margin was 229 votes, with 15 of the 18 recounts changing the margin by fewer than 500 votes.

Margin shifts are smaller and recounts rarer in larger electorates: Recounts in elections with more voters altered the vote margin by lower percentages than in elections with fewer voters. In the five cases in which the total votes cast were above two million, the margin shift was on average 0.016% of the vote (fewer than one for every 6,400 votes cast). In the eight cases in which the total votes cast were fewer than one million, the margin shift was on average 0.039% (fewer than one for every 2,500 votes cast). No recount took place in our three largest states.

Most states should revise their laws governing statewide recounts: Model state laws should establish clear post-election audit procedures and define a reasonable victory margin percentage for automatic, taxpayer-financed recounts.


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