Alabama Recount Laws

This information was updated in February 2016 using the 2015 Alabama Code (AL Code) and the Alabama Administrative Code.

Voting System Used: 

Paper ballot (optical scanners)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Retabulation only

Alabama uses only paper ballots cast on optical scan voting machines. For recounts ballots are to be retabulated by machine, though the law allows for ballots rejected by automatic tabulators to be inspected and recounted by hand. See AL Code 17-16-20 (h). See also the Administrative Code which specifies that “any ballot returned by the machine in a post-election recount must be counted by hand….” See the Alabama Administrative Code 820-2-10-.17(6)(c).

Initiating Mechanism: 

Close vote margin
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Close Vote Margin: 

Less than or equal to 0.5%

If any candidate in a general election or any statewide ballot measure is defeated by not more than 0.5% of the total votes cast for the office or the measure, a recount is automatically held. However, the apparent defeated candidate may file to waive the recount. See Section 17-16-20(a).

The statute provides that “If a recount is conducted pursuant to subsection (a), the appropriate canvassing board or authority shall amend the initial certification of the election to reflect the results of the recount.” Section 17-16-20(e). However, if the recount changes the winner, the results of the recount itself may not binding; “If the results of a recount conducted under subsection (a) name as a winner a person other than the person initially certified, the outcome shall constitute grounds for an election contest as now prescribed by law.” Section 17-16-20(j).

Note that according to an the Office of the Alabama Attorney General (opinion dated June 8, 2010 ), “the automatic recount provisions of 17-16-20 are not applicable in a primary election….”

Timing: Section 17-16-20(b), (e) and (g).

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount
Specific offices only
 

Any person with standing to contest the election (for specified grounds) may petition the canvassing authority for a recount of any or all precinct returns. See Section 17-16-21(a). The grounds required for the petition and those offices for which a recount may be obtained are listed in Section 17-16-40; the grounds include a change in the election result on the basis of an automatic recount conducted under 17-16-20. As was the case with recounts conducted under 17-16-20, recounts under 17-16-21 are also not binding: “If the recount produces a change in precinct totals of sufficient magnitude to alter the result of the election, the outcome shall constitute grounds for an election contest as now prescribed by law.” Section 17-16-21(d).  Section 17-16-21 does not contain a provision analogous to Section 17-16-20(e).

Timing: See Section 17-16-21(a).

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters determine how many/which precincts to recount
Voters may request recounts for offices

Any person with standing to contest the election (for specified grounds) may petition the canvassing authority for a recount of any or all precinct returns.  Voters may request recounts for a limited number of offices.  The petitioner ”may petition the canvassing authority for a recount of any or all precinct returns” relevant to the election. See Section 17-16-21(a).

The grounds required for the petition and those offices for which voters may obtain a recount are listed in Section 17-16-40; the grounds include a change in the election result on the basis of an automatic recount conducted under 17-16-20.  Recounts under 17-16-21 are not binding. See Section 17-16-21(d).

Timing: See Section 17-16-21(a).

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount
Payer of costs depends on outcome of recount

Recount initiators must pay a security before the recount begins, the amount of which is based upon an estimate of the actual costs made by the election authority. See Section 17-16-21(a).  If the recount changes the result, the petitioner is entitled to file an election contest; “If the recount of the resulting contest alters the result of the election, the cost of the recount shall be borne by the county.” See Section 17-16-21(d).  It is important to note, however, that security deposits are also required when filing for election contests.  See, e.g., Sections 17-16-46 (requiring a deposit or bond to cover the costs of examining ballots and voting machines) and 17-16-49 (requiring deposit of security for the costs of the contest generally).

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount
Payer of costs depends on outcome of recount

Recount initiators must pay a security deposit before the recount begins, the amount of which is based upon an estimate of the actual costs made by the election authority. See Section 17-16-21(a).  If the recount changes the result, the petitioner is entitled to file an election contest; “If the recount of the resulting contest alters the result of the election, the cost of the recount shall be borne by the county.”  See Section 17-16-21(d).  Security deposits are also required when filing for election contests.  See, e.g., Sections 17-16-46 and 17-16-49.

Challengers and Observers: 

Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint challengers
No statutory guidance for recount observers

Sections 17-16-20(g) and (h), and Sections 17-16-21(a) and (b) allow for “representatives of opposing interests . . . to participate in the recount” and to observe and to challenge those ballots counted by hand. The statute allows only for the challenging of hand-counted ballots, and not for those retabulated by machine, which are presumably the majority of ballots. (See the Counting Method section above.) Alabama statutes do not require that recounts be conducted publicly.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

The statutory guidance provided for determining voter intent in Alabama is not detailed, but simply states that "if the elector has marked more names than there are persons to be elected to an office, or if for any reason it is impossible to determine the elector's choice for any office to be filled, the ballot shall not be counted for such office;" however, it also states that no ballot shall be “rejected for any technical error which does not make it impossible to determine the elector's choice.” See Section 17-12-13.

See also Alabama Administrative Code 820-2-10.17(5) where it states:
“When ballots are to be counted by hand, polling officials shall determine the elector’s choice by considering the ballot as a whole and determining the manner in which the elector marked his or her choices on the ballot. Only those choices marked consistently in this manner shall be counted for each office to be filled. As used herein, “marked consistently” pertains to the manner in which the elector expresses his or her choice and not the pattern of candidates selected as between political parties on the ballot. If the polling officials are unable to determine the manner in which an elector marked his or her choices, the ballot shall be rejected in its entirety.”

When representatives of the respective parties involved in the recount do not agree in their reading of a voter's intent as marked on a ballot, an appeal may be made to the canvassing board, which has authority to determine intent. See Sections 17-16-20(h) and 17-16-21(b).

Audit Laws: 

State does not have audit laws