Texas Recount Laws

This information was updated in July 2014 using the Texas Election Code (TEC) current through August 2013 

Note: Please read the counting method section first to understand the process by which votes are recounted or reviewed in Texas. Given the length of Texas' Election Code (TEC) as it pertains to recounts, retabulations, and reviews, to simplify matters we have chosen to use the word “recount” to refer to all three processes throughout the rest of our description below.

Voting System Used: 

Mixed baper ballot and DREs without VVPAT

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount, retabulation and electronic review
Counting method chosen by initiator

Although all of Texas' recount statutes focus on paper ballots counted either by hand or by an automatic tabulator, in reality a very large number of precincts in Texas use direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) without a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), meaning that only an electronic review can be conducted for many votes. No description of the electronic review is provided, even though the Secretary of State is tasked with prescribing “the counting procedures for a recount of votes cast by means of a voting system” to which the various statutes on recount procedure do not apply. See TEC 214.071.  Statutes mention the use of DRE "ballot images" in recounts. See TEC 213.016.

For automatic recounts, the counting method is the same as that used for the election, resulting in a mix of recount, retabulation and electronic review in various precincts. See the TEC 216.004.

For candidate and voter-initiated recounts, the initiator may choose the counting method. For votes cast on paper ballots, they may choose either a recount by hand or a retabulation on automatic tabulating equipment, which the Texas Election Code refers to as an “electronic recount.” However, they must choose the same counting method for all precincts in which the recount is to be conducted. As noted above, despite this statute, the fact that many precincts use DREs without any paper record means that, effectively, the initiator has no choice except for an electronic review. See TEC 214.042.

For those precincts with paper ballots, if after a program test the initiator is dissatisfied with the program or equipment, they may request an alternative counting method. See TEC 214.048.  If two petitions for a recount are submitted for the same office, and one petitioner requests the recount be done by hand, the recount shall be conducted by hand. See TEC 212.005(D).

Initiating Mechanism: 

Close vote margin
Candidate-initiated Voter-initiated

For information on recounts in Texas, also see the online document “Procedures to Request and Conduct a Recount,” provided by the Texas Secretary of State's office, available here.

Close Vote Margin: 

Tie vote only

In Texas, there is an automatic recount if an election results in a tie. There are no automatic recounts for any other close vote margins. See the TEC Chapter 216.  For the automatic recount to take place, the appropriate election authority must file the same paperwork completed by the recount petitioners (candidates or voters) requesting a recount. See TEC 216.003.

TimingSee TEC 216.003. See also the timing requirements for initial recounts for candidate-initiated and voter initiated options.

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required
Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount
Specific offices only

Texas law distinguishes between three different types of recounts for which a candidate may apply: initial, supplementary, and expedited.

An initial recount is the first recount that takes place after a given election for a given office. If the initial recount is partial, as defined by statute, and does not cover all votes cast for the office, a supplementary recount may be requested. However, during an initial recount, when a petition is approved for a partial recount in election precincts in which paper ballots were used, any opposing candidate may have the remaining election precincts in which paper ballots were used included in the initial recount (TEC 212.035(a)).

Different requirements and restrictions for initial recounts apply depending on the office in consideration as well as the type of voting system utilized in the requested precinct.  

Initial recounts are available for all candidates except those for whom a majority vote is required for office and for which voters cast votes for more than two candidates for the office. (TEC 212.081(1) & (2)). For the latter two categories, candidates may apply for an expedited recount (see “Expedited Recounts” below for details.) Additionally, there are different requirements for presidential recounts (both in primary and general elections) than for all other offices.

For those precincts in which DREs or optical scan systems are used, any defeated candidate may request a recount without showing grounds and without a close vote margin. See TEC 212.0241.  For those precincts using paper ballots, one of four criteria must be fulfilled in order for a candidate to request a recount:

1) The total number of votes received by all candidates must be less than 1,000 votes; or
2) There must be a close vote margin of less than 10% of the votes cast for the apparently nominated or elected candidate; or
3) The Secretary of State must certify that errors occurred during the initial canvass; or
4)  The candidate is shown by the election returns to be entiltled to a place on a runoff ballot or tied for nomination, election, or entitlement to a place on a runoff ballot. See TEC 212.022.

For presidential primaries, only the latter two criteria apply. See TEC 212.0231. For candidates who allege that errors occurred during the initial canvass, they must submit signed affidavits from election judges with their request for a recount. Other candidates must be notified of the petition and are allowed the opportunity to likewise submit affidavits from judges who claim no errors occurred. The Secretary of State is required to evaluate all affidavits, and may not approve the request for a recount “if the facts are disputed or raise unresolved legal questions as to whether counting errors occurred.” See TEC 212.034.  For all candidates except for presidential candidates, the candidate may petition for a recount. For presidential candidates in general elections, candidates, electors, or candidates and electors jointly may request the recount. See TEC 212.023.

Timing: For initial recounts see TEC 212.028.

Supplementary recounts may take place if an initial recount is only a partial recount, and there are precincts for a given office that have not yet been recounted.  Other grounds, such as a close-vote margin, are required for supplementary recounts. There is a different close vote margin requirement depending on how many precincts were counted in the initial recount. See TEC 212.053.

All candidates eligible to apply for an initial recount are eligible to request a supplementary recount (if the other criteria specified below are met). See TEC 212.051.

Supplementary recounts take place only for those precincts using paper ballots. See TEC 212.052. Candidates are eligible to apply for a supplementary recount if the initial recount demonstrates the existence of counting errors (for which the same process of collecting affidavits applies). They are also eligible if the returns from the initial recount result in a different vote margin as long that margin is such that it would have qualified for an initial recount. See TEC 212.053

Timing:  See TEC 212.056.

Expedited Recounts: Candidates may apply for an expedited recount if a majority vote is required for their office or if voters cast a vote for more than two candidates for the office. The only difference between an expedited recount and an initial recount is the candidates to which it applies and the pace at which it proceeds. The code on expedited recounts states that “a recount under this subchapter is initiated by a petition submitted and processed in accordance with Subchapter B [Initial Recounts].” See TEC 212.082.

Timing: For expedited recounts see TEC 212.083.

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required
Voters determine how many/which precincts to recount
Voters may request recounts for offices
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Like candidates, voters may request initial supplementary and expedited recounts.  All voter-initiated recounts require a minimum of 25 voters to jointly file the recount request. An initial recount is the first recount that takes place.  See TEC 212.024.  If the initial recount is partial, as defined by statute, and does not cover all votes cast for the office or measure at hand, a supplementary recount may also be requested. See TEC 212.053. Voters may request an expedited recount only for presidential primaries and only under certain conditions. See TEC 212.081 and 212.0231.

Initial Recounts for Ballot Measures: Two different parties may request recounts on measures: a group of “25 persons, acting jointly, who were eligible to vote in the election,” or the “campaign treasurer of a specific-purpose political committee that was involved in the election.” See TEC 212.024

For those precincts using paper ballots, one of three criteria must be fulfilled in order for a group of voters to request a recount:
1) The total number of votes for and against the measure must be less than 1,000 votes; or
2) There must be a close vote margin of less than 10% of the votes cast for either side of the measure; or
3) The Secretary of State must certify that errors occurred during the initial canvass; or
4) The cadidate is shown by the election returns to be entilted to a place on a runoff ballot or tied for nomination, election, or entitlement to a place on a runoff ballot. See TEC 212.022

None of the above criteria need be met if the election is conducted on DREs or optical scanners. See TEC 212.0241.

Initial Recounts for Offices: Voters may request an initial recount for only one office and election: presidential candidates in presidential primaries. For candidates who request a recount for the presidential primary, in those precincts using paper ballots, there must be a close vote margin of less than 10% of the votes cast for the apparently nominated candidate, or the Secretary of State must certify that errors occurred during the initial canvass. See TEC 212.0231

Timing: For initial recounts, see TEC 212.028.  For supplementary see TEC 212.056.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

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

Recount initiators must pay a deposit before the recount begins. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting method chosen by the initiator. The deposit is $60 per precinct in which paper ballots are used, and $100 per precinct in which other voting systems are used. See TEC 212.112.  Whether the votes are recounted by hand, retabulated, or electronically reviewed, the full costs of the recount are assessed against the initiator unless the recount changes the outcome of the election. See TEC 215.003.

There are also additional circumstances under which a deposit would be returned, such as rejection or withdrawal of the petition (TEC 212.113), or if the deposit exceeds the assessed costs (TEC 215.004(b)). No costs are assessed against the petitioner in the case of Automatic Recounts. See TEC 216.005.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

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

initiators must pay a deposit before the recount begins. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting method chosen by the initiator. The deposit is $60 per precinct in which paper ballots are used, and $100 per precinct in which other voting systems are used. See Section 212.112, “Amount of deposit”: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/EL/htm/EL.212.htm#212.112 Whether the votes are recounted by hand, retabulated, or electronically reviewed, the full costs of the recount are assessed against the initiator unless the recount changes the outcome of the election. See Section 215.003, “Assessment of costs”: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/EL/htm/EL.215.htm#215.003.

There are also additional circumstances under which a deposit would be returned, such as rejection or withdrawal of the petition (TEC 212.113), or if the deposit exceeds the assessed costs (TEC 215.004(b)). No costs are assessed against the petitioner in the case of Automatic Recounts. See TEC 216.005.

Challengers and Observers: 

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

Both recount initiators and political parties are entitled to have watchers present for each counting team in the recount. If there is only one counting team, two watchers are allowed. Watchers are not given the authority to challenge ballots. See TEC 213.013.  The Texas code specifically prohibits observation of the recount by the public. See TEC 213.015.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

See TEC 65.009.  The statute specifies that the chair of a recount committee has the same authority as an election judge to inteprete a voter's mark on a ballot and make a determination on whether it will be counted.. See TEC 213.006.