California Recount Laws

This information was updated  1/19/2023.

Voting System Used

Paper Ballots (hand marked paper ballots or ballot marking devices)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method

Mix of hand count and retabulation
Counting method chosen by initiator

The Secretary of State is charged with developing regulations for recounting votes on each type of voting system used throughout the state. See the California Elections Code, Division 15, Chapter, 9, Section 15601. The regulations can be found in California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 2, Division 7, Chapter 8.1

For voter-initiated recounts, the initiator has the authority to choose whether counting shall be conducted by hand or "by means of the voting system used originally." See Section 15627.

Initiating Mechanisms

Close vote margin
Election official-initiated

Note: Although California law does not specifically authorize candidates to request a recount, any California voter may request one.

Court-Ordered Recounts:
The county board of supervisors or a grand jury, given evidence of “sufficient” misconduct, or “errors or failures,” may request that the district attorney petition the superior trial court for a public recount. The court can also on its own “order any further recounts that it may deem proper based on the results” of the recount. See Section 15640.

Timing: The district attorney must petition the trial court within 25 days after the election. See Section 15640.

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:
Under certain conditions, elections officials may initiate recounts without petitioning a court. See Section 15610.

Timing: No deadlines are provided in the statutes. 

Close Vote Margin Options

Less than or equal to 0.1%
Vote count difference (and percentage-based)
Varies by election contest
Initiated by request (at the discretion of the governor)

In a primary or general election, the governor may order a state-funded manual recount of all votes cast for a statewide office or state ballot measure if the margin of victory is "less than or equal to the lesser of 1,000 votes or 0.00015 [0.015%] of the number of all votes cast.... "  If the office eligible for the recount is the governor's race, then the secretary of state, but not the governor, may order the recount.  See Section 15645.

Timing: The governor may order the recount “[w]ithin five days after the Secretary of State files a statement of the vote.”  See Section 15645.

Voter-Initiated Options

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

Any voter in California may request a recount.  The request may be filed for candidates for any office, for slates of presidential electors, or for or against any ballot measure. The request "shall specify on behalf of which candidate, slate of electors, or position on a measure (affirmative or negative) it is filed."  See Section 15620 & 15621.

For statewide offices or for statewide ballot measures, the request must specify in which counties the recount is to take place. Section 15621. But “[i]f the office, slates of presidential electors, or measure are voted on statewide, the results of any recount will be declared null and void where there is not recounted each vote cast statewide for the office, slates, or measure.” See Section 15632.

The initiator may also indicate the order in which the precincts are to be recounted. See Section 15622. If not all precincts were initially included in the request for a recount, any other voter may file a request to recount any of the remaining precincts, during the recount or up to 24 hours after.  See Section 15623. Statewide offices may also be recounted, but the request is filed with the Secretary of State. See Section 15621.

Timing For statewide elections: following completion of the official canvas, the recount request must be filed within five days beginning on the 31st day after a statewide election.” Also, a recount request may be filed within five days following completion of any post-canvass risk-limiting audit conducted pursuant to Section 15560. See Section 15621(a).  

For non-statewide elections: the request must be filed within five days of the official canvass, see Section 15620(a), but for non-statewide elections conducted in more than one county, the request must be filed within five days, beginning on the 31st day after the election. See Section 15620(b)

The recount must begin within seven days of the request, and is required to continue each day, excepting holidays, for a minimum of six hours each day, until its completion. See Section 15626, 15620 & 15621. See also CCR, Title 2, Section 20819.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts

Initiator pays deposit before recount
Payer of costs depends on outcome of recount

The voter must pay for all associated actual recount costs determined by the appropriate elections officials. The voter will pay a deposit at the beginning of each day of the recount for that day's estimated costs. All deposits are refunded if the recount declares that the initiator's candidate, or stated position on a ballot measure, is the actual winner in the election. See Section 15624. See also CCR, Title 2, Section 20815.

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

California requires that the recount must be held publicly and that notice of the recount be given and posted at least one day prior to the commencement of the recount; see Sections 15628 and 15629.  State regulations also allow for any person to observe the recount, “subject to space limitations.” See CCR Title 2, Section 20820.  California regulations state that a voter requesting the recount has a right to observers. Election officials choosing the recount location must make sure the space allows for the presence of not more than two representatives each for interested parties, qualified political parties, and “any bona fide association of citizens or a media organization.” CCR, Title 2, Section 20816. The definition of "interested parties” includes the voter who has requested a recount. CCR, Title 2, Section 20811(c).

At a recount, ballots may be challenged for "incompleteness, ambiguity or other defects." Section 15631.  The voter initiating a recount may request an examination of all ballots. Section 15630.  See also CCR, Title 2, Section 20823 for challenge procedures.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent

Statutory guidance provided

See the Uniform Vote Counting Standards

State Has Audit Laws

See California Audit Laws at Verified Voting

Revision Notes

This information was updated 1/19/2023 using the California Elections Code current through the 2022 legislative session. 

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