Washington Recount Laws

This information was updated in January 2015 using the 2014 Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and the 2014 Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

Voting System Used: 

Mixed paper ballot and DREs with VVPAT

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method: 

Mix of recount and retabulation
Counting method chosen by initiator

Washington is a vote-by-mail state.  Most counties also use direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) whith voter-verified paper trails for accessible voting in vote centers; however, accoring to the Office of the Washington Secretary of State, the usage of DREs equaled only 1,945 total votes in a recent statewide election.

For optional candidae and voter-initated recounts, the applicants have a choice of counting method and the application for a recount "must specify whether the recount will be done manually or by the vote tally system." See RCW 29A.64.011

For mandatory recounts initiated by close-vote-marings, the recount is a retabluation of the ballots (see the definition of "recount" at RCW 29A.04.139); however if the vote margin is small enough, a hand recount is required (see "Close Vote Margin" below for details.)  When a hand count is required in a close-vote-margin recount, the apparent winning candidate and the next leading candidate may jointly choose to request an alternative method of conducting the recount.  See RCW 29A.64.021(3).  According to the Office of the Washington Secretary of state, when a hand count is not required in a close-vote-margin recount, the county auditors may, at their discretion, choose to conduct a hand count.

See WAC 434-263 for additional details on counting methods for recounts.

Initiating Mechanism: 

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

In Washington, the term “recanvass” is used for recounts that take place before the certification of election results, whereas a “recount” takes place after certification. Recounts after certification may be initiated by candidates, voters, or a close vote margin, while recanvasses may only be initiated by election officials.  According to the Office of the Washington Secretary of State, the counting method for a recanvass is determined by the rules for processing ballots.

Election Official-Initiated Recounts: 

The county canvassing board may recanvass the ballots or voting devices when it finds that there is an apparent discrepancy or inconsistency in the return, or that election staff has made an error regarding the treament or disposition of a ballot. 

Timing:  See RCW 29A.60.210.

Close Vote Margin: 

Less than or equal to .5%
Vote count difference (not percentage based)

The close vote margin leading to mandatory recount in Washington has two components. For all offices, in both general and primary elections, a recount is required if the margin is both less than 2,000 votes and also less than 0.5%. The second component determines the counting method used for the recount. For statewide offices, if the difference between the votes cast for the apparent winner and the next leading candidate is both less than 1,000 votes and also less than 0.25% of the total votes cast, the recount must be conducted by hand. For all other offices, a hand recount is required if the difference is both less than 150 votes and also less than 0.25%. If the vote margin is larger, the votes are to be retabulated. See RCW 29A.64.021 and the definition of "recount" in RCW 29A.04.139. Note that the county auditor may, at their option, choose to do a hand count (see "Counting Method" section above.)

To initiate a recount for a statewide measure, the close vote margin must be both less than 2,000 votes and also less than 0.5% of the total number cast for the measure. See RCW 29A.64.090.  According to the Washington Secretary of State, recounts for statewide measures follow the same manual count rules applied to recounts for offices.

Timing: See RCW 29A.64.021(1)(a) and 29A.64.030. See also "Timing Notes" below.

Candidate-Initiated Options: 

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount
Party official may petition for candidate

Candidates or officers of political parties may request “a recount of the votes or a portion of the votes” cast for their respective office in either a primary or a regular election. See RCW 29A.64.011. If the request is to recount a "portion of the votes" and if this partial recount changes the outcome of the election, then a complete recount of all the votes must be held. See RCW 29A.64.050.

Timing: See RCW 29A.64.011, 29A.64.030 and 29A.64.061.  See also "Timing Notes" below.

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters determine how many/which precincts to recount
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Any group of five voters may request a recount for all votes or a portion of the votes cast for a question or issue. The law does not specify that they must be eligible to vote on that issue, altthough it states that voters must include their address of residency on the recount application. See RCW 29A.64.011.  If the request is to count a "portion of the votes," and if this partial recount changes the outcome of the election, then a complete recount of all the votes must be held.  See RCW 29A.64.050.

Timing: See RCW 29A.64.011, 29A.64.030 and 29A64.061.  See also "Timing Notes" below.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

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

The initiator is liable for the entire cost of the recount.  If the recount changes the outcome of the election there are not costs to the initiator.  See RCW 29A.64.081. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting mehotd used.  The deposit is 25 cents per ballot cast for hand recounts or 15 cents per ballot cast for retabulations. See Section RCW 29A.64.030

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

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

The initiators are liable for the entire cost of the recount. If the recount changes the outcome of the election, there are no costs to the initiators.  See RCW 29A.64.081. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting method used.  The deposit is 25 cents per ballot cast for hand recounts or 15 cents per ballot cast for retabulations. See RCW 29A.64.030.

Challengers and Observers: 

Statutes specify that recount must be public
Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint observers
No statutory guidance for recount challengers

RCW 29A.64.030 states that the proceedings of the canvassing board during a recount are public, and that subject to guidelines (see WAC 434-264-030) “all interested persons may attend and witness a recount.” Recount initiators may appoint observers as provided for in RCW 29A.64.041.  Observers may also be appointed by “the two major political parties.” See RCW 434-264-030(2). The Secretary of State or County Auditor may limit the number of observers on each side if a greater number would cause undue delay or disruption of the recount process. See RCW 29A.64.041.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Instructions for determining voter intent are provided in WAC 434-261-086. Additional guidance on write-in votes is provided in RCW 29A.60.040.  Also see the publication:  Voter Intent-Statewide Standards on What is a Vote, published by the Office of the Washington Secretary of State.

Audit Laws: 

State has audit laws

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

Timing Notes:  The Office of the Washington Secretary of State has provided the following information regarding the timing requirements for recounts. 

RCW 29A.64.030, 2nd paragraph, applies to all types of recounts. 

Timeline for offices/ballot issues filed with Secretary of State (see RCW 29A.24.070 for the filing officers for declarations of candidacy):

  • If the recount is a requested recount, the application must be submitted within two days of the certification of the results of the election.
  • For all types of recounts, the Secretary of State calls for a recount within 3 days of certifying (or receiving a requested application) and may set the day by which the recount must be certified by the county canvassing boards.
  • Each canvassing board sets the date, time, and place for the recount to take place in its county; there are no deadlines.  However, if the Secretary of State has set a certification deadline for the county canvassing boards, each county must determine a date that will allow the recount to meet the Secretary’s certification deadline.
  • Each canvassing board notifies the affected parties at least one day before the recount is to take place.
  • Counties send the recount results to the Secretary of State upon completion of the recount; there are no deadlines unless the Secretary of State sets a certification date for the county canvassing boards.
  • Secretary of State certifies amended results; there are no deadlines.

Timeline for offices filed with a county:

  • If the recount is a requested recount, the application must be submitted within two days of the certification of the results of the election.
  • For all types of recounts, the canvassing board sets the date, time, and place for the recount to take place in its county; there are no deadlines.
  • The canvassing board notifies the affected parties at least one day before the recount is to take place.
  • The canvassing board certifies the amended results; there are no deadlines.