Michigan Recount Laws

The summary below was updated in February 2016 using the Michigan Compiled Laws  (Mich. Comp. Laws) and the Michigan Administrative Code (Mich. Admin. Code).

Voting System Used: 

Paper ballot (optical scanner)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount and retabulation
Counting method chosen by election official

Recounts conducted under the supervision of county, city, township and village boards of canvassers are conducted using an electronic voting system unless one or more of certain conditions exist. These conditions are specified in statute and include such conditions as discrepancies in the number of ballots issued and voted, and discrepancies relating to the seals on ballot containers and transfer cases.  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.871(1).

Although the default method of counting is retabulation using an electronic voting system, Mich. Comp. Laws 168.871(4) provides boards of canvassers with other options for counting ballots and states that recounts may be conducted by any, or any combination of the following means: a manual tally of the ballots; a tabulation of the ballots on a computer using a software application designed to specifically count only the office or ballot question subject to the recount; or a tabulation of the ballots on a computer using the same software application used in the precinct on election day. 

Any recount conducted under the direction, supervision and control of the state board of canvassers is conducted in the same manner (as far as applicable) as is provided for the conduct of recounts by county boards of canvassers. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.891

Note: Counting method section updated 12/1/16.

Initiating Mechanism: 

Close vote margin
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Close Vote Margin: 

Vote count difference (not percentage-based)

Recounts initiated by a close vote margin are mandatory if the close vote margin is triggered, but only at the statewide level. This requirement applies to both initiatives and candidates in any primary or election, except for partisan offices in which more than one person is elected. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.880(a)(1).  Additional exceptions are noted in the Bureau of Elections “Election Recounts” manual (see page 5): The margin is set at 2,000 votes or less, regardless of the  number of votes cast in the election, and when that margin applies, neither candidates nor voters would be required to file a petition as set forth below to initiate a recount.

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required (in certain cases)
Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount
Party official may petition for candidate

Any candidate at the county, city, township or village level “who believes he or she is aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass or returns of the votes” may apply for a recount of one or multiple precincts with the appropriate canvassing board. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.862.

A candidate for an office canvassed by the board of state canvassers   or is the office of representative in Congress, state representative, or state senator for a district located wholly within 1 county may petition for a recount of the votes.  The petition must allege that the candidate is “aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes by the inspectors of election or the returns.”  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.879(1).

Section 168.879 also applies to elections for electors for president and vice president since they are canvassed by board of state canvassers. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.841.  However, presidential primary candidates are explicitly excluded. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.879a.

In the case of elections for state senatorial and representative office decided by a close vote margin, party officials may petition for recounts. For these offices only, if the vote margin is 500 votes or less for senatorial contests and 200 votes or less for representative contests, the state political party chair is eligible to apply for a recount on behalf of the candidate and need not allege fraud or mistake. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.879(2).

Timing: Mich. Comp. Laws 168.879(1)(c), 168.866(3) and 168.875.

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Any individual voter who alleges fraud or error in the canvass of the votes may request a recount on ballot questions, propositions, or charter and constitutional amendments, at the state, county, city, township, school district, community college district, or village, level. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.880 and 168.863.

Timing: Mich. Comp. Laws 168.880, 168.866(3) and 168.875.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

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

For most recounts, candidates must pay a $25 per precinct deposit for each precinct listed in the petition when they petition for a recount. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(1) and 168.881(1).

The entire deposit is refunded if the recount reverses the result of the elections. Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(5) and 168.881(5). However, the cost per precinct increases to $125 per precinct when the margin of victory is more than 50 votes or 0.5% of the total number of votes cast (or, in the case of multi-candidate contests, 0.5% of the sum of the number of votes received by the petitioner and the winning candidate with the fewest votes), whichever is greater.  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(2) and (3) and 168.881(2) and (3).

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

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

For most recounts, voters must pay a $25 per precinct deposit for each precinct listed in the petition when they petition for a recount.  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(1) and 168.881(1). The entire deposit is refunded if the recount reverses the results of the election.  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(5) and 168.881(5). However, the cost per precinct increases to $125 per precinct when the margin of victory is more than 50 votes or 0.5% of the total number of votes cast, whichever is greater.  Mich. Comp. Laws 168.867(4) and 168.881(4).

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

Recounts are public in Michigan.  Mich. Admin. Code 168.927 and Mich. Comp Laws168.889.

Two representatives  and one attorney for each recount initiator are  allowed to observe the recount.  Mich. Admin. Code 168.907 and 168.916. The role of these representatives in challenging ballots varies on the counting method used during the recount. During the use of voting machines, they do not have the ability to challenge individual ballots as they are counted, but they are allowed to dictate challenges and objections to the proceedings in the stenographic record of the recount, and to argue for these objections to board of canvassers after the recounting is completed. Mich. Admin. Code 168.913 and 168.914.

Where ballots are recounted by hand, candidate and petitioner representatives “shall be afforded an opportunity to observe the opening of ballot boxes and each ballot as the votes are called and to make such notations on their private records as they may desire.” Mich. Admin. Code 168.916.

Any ballot under protest by any interested party’s representative “shall be identified…and be presented to the board of county canvassers for its decision. Representatives of each interested party shall be afforded an opportunity to submit authorities and argument to the board of county canvassers for counting or rejecting each such challenged ballot…. Mich. Admin. Code 168.925.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

See Mich. Comp. Laws 168.803 for guidelines on interpreting voter intent.  Further details are provided in Mich. Admin. Code 168.923 and 168.924.

Audit Laws: 

State does not have audit laws