Iowa Recount Laws

This information was updated 10/16/2016 using the 2016 Iowa Code, including the Acts of a permanent nature of the Eighty-sixth General Assembly, and using the Iowa Administrative Code (IAC), updated through 10/12/2016. 

Voting System Used: 

Paper ballot (optical scanners, hand counted paper ballots, or a mix)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount and retabulation
Counting method chosen by election official

In each county, a three-person recount board determines whether ballots will be recounted by hand or retabulated.  All ballots that were accepted for counting will be recounted.  If the ballots were hand-counted on election day, the recount board must count the ballots by hand.  If voting equipment was used on election day, the recount board may request that the ballots be recounted by voting equipment, may count the ballots by hand, or may conduct both types of counts.  In the event a hand recount differs from a recount using voting equipment, the recount board must determine which results to give to the auditor. Iowa Code § 50.48(4)(a), IAC 721—26.105(2), IAC 721—26.104(1), and the Election Administrator’s Guide, Chap. 6, p. 6-15.

Initiating Mechanism: 

Election official-initiated
Close-vote margin
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated 

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:

Whenever the commissioner suspects that errors in either the count or the performance of voting equipment may have affected the outcome of the election, or if precinct election officials report counting errors to the commissioner after the conclusion of the canvass of votes in the precinct, the  commissioner may submit a request for an administrative recount to the  board of supervisors who would decide whether to order the recount.  IAC 721—21.25 and Iowa Code § 50.50.

Timing: IAC 721—21.25.

Close Vote Margin: 

Less than or equal to 1%
Vote count difference (not percentage based)

Candidates and voters may petition for a taxpayer-funded recount when a close-vote margin exists.

For candidates in primary and general elections:
No bond is required when the difference between the candidates or nominees for the office is less than fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast, whichever is greater. Iowa Code § 50.50(2)(a) and Iowa Code § 43.56(2).

For ballot measures:
“If the difference between the affirmative and negative votes cast on the public measure is less than the greater of fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast for and against the question, a bond is not required. If approval by sixty percent of the votes cast is required for adoption of the public measure, no bond is required if the difference between sixty percent of the total votes cast for and against the question and the number of affirmative votes cast is less than the greater of fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast.”  Iowa Code § 50.49(4).

Timing: For candidates, see Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a) & (7) and Iowa Code § 43.56. For ballot measures, see Iowa Code § 50.49.

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount

Any candidate on the ballot in any election may request a recount, including write-in candidates who are legally qualified to seek and hold the office. While candidates choose the initial precincts to be counted,  a member of the recount board may expand the recount to other precincts in the same county. Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a) & (4)(b)

Timing:  Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a) & (7).

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

A recount for a ballot measure requires a petition by not less than ten eligible electors or a number of eligible electors equal to 1% of the total number of votes cast for the measure, whichever is greater.  Iowa Code § 50.49.

Timing: Iowa Code § 50.49.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount
Payer of costs depends on outcome of recount

Candidates are required to post a bond before the recount, unless the election results are within specified close vote margins. The amount varies depending on the office to be recounted and the population of the county. The bonds range from $100 to $1000. If the recount determines that the apparent winning candidate after the initial canvass is not in fact the winner, the bond is refunded to the candidate who requested the recount.  Iowa Code § 50.48(2).

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount

Initiators must post a  $1000 bond  for statewide measures, or a $100 bond for all other measures. A bond is not required if the election results are within specified close vote margins. While candidates may have their bond refunded if the recount changes the outcome of the election, the statute authorizing ballot measure recounts states that the procedure for the recount shall follow the provisions of section 50.48 (for candidate recounts) but it excludes the subsection that requires the bond to be refunded if the outcome of the measure changes. Iowa Code § 50.49.

Challengers and Observers: 

Statutes specify that recount must be public
No statutory guidance for recount observers
No statutory guidance for recount challengers

Recounts are open to the public, but observers may not participate in the recount. IAC 721—26.106.

No statutory guidance is provided for recount initiators to appoint either observers or challengers. However, Iowa statutes allow the recount initiators to help appoint the board that conducts the recount. For candidate-initiated recounts, each recount board is composed of an appointee made by the candidate requesting the recount, an appointee made by the apparent winning candidate (or in some primaries the candidate with the highest vote count), and a third member agreed upon by the first two appointees. Iowa Code § 50.48(3)(a) and § 43.56.  

For voter-initiated recounts, each recount board is composed of an appointee made by the recount initiator, an appointee made by the election commissioner, and a third member agreed upon by the first two appointees. Iowa Code § 50.49(2).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Rules for determining voter intent are found in IAC 721.26.10 through 721.26.21.

Audit Laws: 

State does not have audit laws

Legislation (HF 2304) requiring post-election audits was introduced in 2016 but was not enacted.