Massachusetts Recount Laws

This information was updated in September 2015 using the General Laws of Massachusetts including all amendments passed through June 30th, 2014.

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 initiator

In jurisdictions using optical scan voting machines, ballots are retabulated on the optical scanners, unless the recount initiators specifically request that the ballots be counted by hand. See the General Laws of Massachusetts, Part I, Title VIII, Chapter 54, Section 135B. For general counting procedures, see Chapter 54, Sections 104-109. See also the section on “Paper Ballot Recount Procedures,” under “Part Two: The Recount of the Elections” of the Massachusetts Elections Divison's online manual How to Request a Recount.

Initiating Mechanism: 

Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required 

Candidate and voter-initiated recounts in Massachusetts are not separate processes. A petition for a recount for an office must include both the signature of a candidate for that office and the signatures of the appropriate number of voters. The number of voters' signatures required varies depending on the size of the jurisdiction in which the petition is filed. The City of Boston has its own ward-based requirements. The petition must contain a statement that the petitioners “have reason to believe and do believe that the records, or copies of records, made by the election officers…are erroneous…or that challenged votes were cast by persons not entitled to vote therein, and that they believe a recount of the ballots cast…will affect the nomination or election of one or more candidates voted for…or will affect the decision of a question voted upon….” See Chapter 54, Section 135. Paragraphs (1), (2), (6) and (7) . See also “Voter-Initiated Options” below for more details.

For statewide recounts and recounts of state and presidential primaries, there is a close vote margin requirement of 0.5% of votes cast for the two leading candidates for the office or nomination. See Section 135, Paragraphs (6) and (7).

For district-wide recounts “in cases of offices to be filled or questions to be voted upon at state elections…may be requested in the same manner as state-wide recounts, except that the petition shall be signed by one-fourth the number of voters required to sign nomination papers for state primary candidates…and provided that the difference in the numbers of votes cast for any candidate seeking an office or nomination and the candidate who is the apparent winner of that office or nomination, or in the number of affirmative and negative votes on a question, for which the recount is desired is not more than one-half of one per cent of the total number of votes cast for such office or nomination or on such question.” See Section 135, Paragraph (7).

Timing:  Deadlines applicable to the filing of petitions, the commencement of the recount, and the transmission and release of results are found in Section 135, Paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (8), (10), (11), and (12).

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required
Voters may request recounts for offices
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

The number of voters required to sign a petition for a recount varies depending on the population of the relevant jurisdiction and on whether the office or question at hand is local or statewide. For example,10 signatures are sufficient to file a petition in towns with up to 2500 voters, while 1000 signatures are required for any statewide office or question. The City of Boston requires that 50 voters from each ward sign a petition. See Section 135, Paragraphs (1), (6) and (7).

Any recount petition for an election for office must include the signature of the candidate on whose behalf the recount is requested. See Section 135, Paragraph (2).

For district and statewide recounts only, there is a close vote margin requirement of 0.5% of “the number of affirmative and negative votes on a question. See Section 135, Paragraphs (6) and (7).

Timing: Deadlines applicable to the filing of petitions, the commencement of the recount, and the transmission and release of results are found in Section 135, Paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (8), (10), (11), and (12).

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Paid entirely by state or county

The city, town, or state must conduct a recount if an adequate petition is filed. There are no provisions in Section 135 requiring that those filing for a recount are in any way responsible for the costs of the recount. Note that recounts in state-wide and district-wide elections (including state primaries and presidential primaries) only take place on close votes.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Paid entirely by state or county

The city, town, or state must conduct a recount if an adequate petition is filed. There are no provisions in the filing instructions contained in Section 135 requiring that those filing for a recount are in any way responsible for the costs of the recount. Note that recounts in state-wide and district-wide elections on ballot questions only take place on close votes.

Challengers and Observers: 

Statutes specify that recount must be public
Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint observers
Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint challengers

Each candidate is also entitled to “be represented by agents... sufficient in number to provide one such agent for each officer counting or checking such ballots.” For recounts involving questions, “one representative from any committee organized to favor or to oppose the question so submitted shall be permitted to be present and witness the recount.” See Section 135, Paragraph (8).

Massachusetts’ election laws do not provide a procedure for observers or agents to challenge ballots at recounts, stating only that they “shall have the right to watch and inspect the ballots, tally sheets and all other papers used in the recount, and to watch every individual act performed in connection therewith.” See Section 135, Paragraph (8).  However, the Elections Division, in its recount procedures, describes a process by which agents may protest ballots as they are tallied. See “Part Two: The Recount--Protested Ballots” in How to Request a Recount. The Elections Division also notes that both the public and the press must be allowed to observe the recount. See “Part Two: The Recount” in How to Request a Recount.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

"The registrars at the recount shall determine how protested votes are to be counted and the registrars shall assign tally clerks to count the votes." See Section 135, Paragraph (4).

Citations to court decisions and examples of how to interpret various voter marks are set forth in How to Request a Recount. See the sections on “The Will of the Voter,” and “Examples of Contested Ballot Marks.”

Audit Laws: 

State has audit laws

See: http://www.ceimn.org/state-audit-laws-searchable-database/states/massachusetts