Pennsylvania Recount Laws

This information was updated in June 2015 using Title 25 of the Unofficial Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes  (25 P.S.) current through Act 2015-4.

All citations below can be found in Title 25, “Elections and Electoral Districts,” Chapter 14, “Election Code.”  The index to all statutes can be found here.

Voting System Used: 

Mixed paper ballot and DREs without VVPAT

Direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems without voter verified paper trails are used in 47 counties. The remaining 20 counties use optical scanners tabulators with paper ballots or some combination of DREs with optical scan tabulators.  

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount, retabulation and electronic review

The counting method is determined by the recount initiating mechanism and the type of voting system used.  

For districts that use paper ballots:

If the recount is initiated by voters or county boards under 25 P.S., Chapter 14, Article XIV, 3154(e), or by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under 25 P.S. 3154(g), the recount will consist of a manual count of ballots in counties “in which an election district uses paper ballots other than those used in conjunction with an electronic voting system.”  In counties “in which an election district uses an electronic voting system utilizing paper ballots,” the counting method requires that manual, mechanical, or electronic devices of a different type than those used for the initial counting be used, meaning that either a recount or a retabulation is possible; however, all ballots with overvotes must be recounted by hand. See 25 P.S. 3154(e)(2) and (3).  See also page 6 of the Directive Concerning the Use, Implementation and Operation of Electronic Voting Systems by the County Board (6/09/2011), issued by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

If the recount is initiated by county boards under 25 P.S. 3154(b), then a manual count of the ballots is “authorized,” and will include a “recount of the ballots” in the ballot box.   See 25 P.S. 3154(b), (c) and (d).

If the recount is initiated by voters or by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under 25 P.S. 3261, the ballot boxes will be opened and the “entire vote of the election district” will be counted.  See 25 P.S. 3261.

For districts using paperless direct-recording electronic machines (DREs):

Only an electronic review is performed.  See 25 P.S.  3154 (d)(2) and (e)(1) and 3262 for review procedures.  See also the Directive Concerning the Use, Implementation and Operation of Electronic Voting Systems by the County Board (6/09/2011).

Initiating Mechanism: 

Close vote margin
Voter-initiated
Election official-initiated

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:
When a discrepancy is found in the reconciliation of the number of registered electors and the total vote, the county board is authorized to “recount the ballots.” See 25 P.S. 3154(b).

In districts using paper ballots or ballots electronically tabulated in the district, when a discrepancy is found in the comparison of the sealed and unsealed general returns, and the subsequent examination of the documentation, then the county board “shall” recount the ballots.  See 25 P.S. 3154(d)(1) & (5).

In districts where electronically tabulated ballots are used in conjunction with central ballot tabulation, a discrepancy in the number of persons voting between the computer return sheets and the sealed general returns will require the count board to recount the ballots. See 25 P.S. 3154(d)(4).

Moreover, county boards “shall conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast” whenever “it shall appear that there is a discrepancy in the returns of any election district…”  The county board may also conduct a recount or recanvass “of their own motion.” See 25 P.S. 3154(e).

Timing: See 25 P.S. 3154(f).

Close Vote Margin: 

Less than or equal to .5%

Close vote margin recounts  are initiated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and  are only available  for candidates or ballot questions “appearing on the ballot in every election district in [the] Commonwealth.”  They are required when the margin is  0.5% or less of all votes cast for the office or ballot question.   See 25 P.S.  3154(g)(1).  Close vote margin recounts may also take place under a court’s jurisdiction.  See 25 P.S. 3261 and 3262.   Counties receive a reimbursement from the state for the recount.  See 25 P.S. 3154(g)(8).

Timing: See 25 P.S. 3154(g)(2), (g)(5) and (g)(6).   For recounts ordered by the Secretary and conducted under the jurisdiction of the court see 25 P.S. 3261 and 3262.

[Close vote margin section revised 12/2/16]

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

While candidates cannot file a direct request for a recount, they may appeal the “order or decision of any county board regarding the computation or canvassing of the returns of any primary or election, or regarding any recount or recanvass thereof.” During the appeal process, the court may determine that a recount is necessary. See  25 P.S. 3157.

Timing:  See P.S. 3157(a).

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters may request recounts for offices
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Pennsylvania uses the terms “election district” to identify a district, division or precinct,  within which all qualified electors vote at one polling place.  As of June 2015, there were 9,175 election districts in Pennsylvania. Note the references below to petitions required for each election district.

Voters may initiate recounts with the county boards with a “petition of three voters of any district, verified by affidavit, that an error, although not apparent on the face of the returns, has been committed….” The county board shall then “conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast.”  See 25 P.S. 3154(e).

Voters may also initiate recounts in the court of common pleas  under 25 P.S. 3261, which governs  recounts requested in counties using paper ballots or they may initiate a recanvass under 25 P.S. 3262, which governs  counties using voting machines (DREs).  In the counties using paper ballots and in those using voting machines, voters may petition for a recount in any general, municipal, special or primary election, for either an office or a question.   These recount requests must be accompanied by the signatures of at least three voters per precinct or election district. See 25 P.S. 3261(a) and 3262(a).  Unless the recount initiators are alleging a particular act of fraud or error and offer evidence supporting the allegation, then the  recount “shall include all election districts in which ballots were cast for the office in question” and that the initiators' petition “must be filed in each election district.” See 25 P.S. 3263(a)(1).

Timing: For voter initiated recounts under 25 P.S. 3261 and 3262, see 25 P.S. 3263(a)(1), 3261(f) and 3262(c). For voter initiated recounts under 25 P.S. 3154(e), see 3154(f).  

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

Voters must either deposit $50 in cash or present a bond of $100 with their petition for a recount for each election district.   See 25 P.S. 3261(b) and  3262(a.1).  If “fraud or substantial error” is discovered during the course of the recount the bond is cancelled or the deposit is returned to the petitioners. See  25 P.S. 3261(d) and 3262(b.1). 

Challengers and Observers: 

Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint observers

There are no statutes requiring that recounts be conducted in public.  

For recounts under 25 P.S. 3154(e), "each . . . candidate may be present in person, or by attorney, and each [party or political body affected by the recount or recanvass] may send two representatives to be present at such recount or recanvass." 

For recounts ordered by the Secretary under 25 P.S. 3154(g), "A candidate affected by the recount and recanvass may be present, in person or by attorney, at the recount and recanvass” and “A party or body affected by the recount and recanvass may send two representatives to the recount and recanvass." See  25 P.S. 3154(g)(4).

For recounts under court jurisdiction, where paper ballots are used, “each  . . . candidate may be present at such recount, either in person or by his attorney or by his duly authorized representative…." See 25 P.S. 3261(c).  In districts where voting machines are used, "each candidate whose name appears on the ballot labels . . .  may be present at such recanvass, either in person or by his attorney, or by his duly authorized representative...." See 25 P.S. 3262(b).

“Any candidate, attorney or watcher present at any recount of ballots or recanvass of voting machines shall be entitled to examine the ballots, or the voting machine and to raise any objections regarding the same….”  See 25 P.S. 2650(c).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Guidelines for counting voter marks are provided in 25 P.S. 3063.  See also the guidelines for counting irregular ballots in 25 P.S. 3155.