Voting System Used

 This search field describes the various methods and equipment used by voters to cast their votes in each state. This category focuses only on the primary and accessible voting equipment used, and does not include any variations that may exist for absentee or provisional ballots. For most states, absentee ballots are hand-counted paper ballots only. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Counting Method

This search field describes the methods by which votes are recounted. This category exists separately from Voting System Used, for while two states may both use paper ballots, one may hand count all ballots while another may feed all ballots into an automatic tabulator. Unless otherwise noted, the counting method applies to votes cast on the primary and accessible voting equipment and not to how absentee and provisional ballots are counted. See the individual search terms for further clarifications. Counting method chosen by election official – This search term, for the Counting Method search field, indicates that state law allows election officials discretion when performing a recount as to the counting method to be used. The election official responsible for choosing the counting method varies by state.

Close Vote Margin Options

This search field captures the different requirements used by states to determine if the difference in votes received by competing candidates or by opposing positions on a ballot measure is small enough to automatically initiate a recount. The search options include both percentages (in which the vote margin between candidates is divided by a given number of votes, such as the total votes cast for an office) as well as vote count differences (in which a set number of votes, rather than a percentage, is given as the requirement). See "Less than or equal to X%" below for more details.

Initiating Mechanism

This search field describes both persons (candidates, voters, election officials, courts) and circumstances (close vote margins, or audit results mandating a recount) that may trigger a recount to occur after the initial counting of votes. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Audit Laws Details

This search field shows those states that have in place laws regarding not just recounts but also post-election audits. While only two states (Hawaii and Mississippi) lack recount laws, many more states lack laws regarding post-election audits.

Candidate-Initiated Options

This search field describes a number of notable characteristics that shape the candidate-initiated recount process differently in each state. These include both limitations that a state may set (some states allow candidates to request a recount only if there is a particular close vote margin, or only if they are running for a particular office) and privileges that a state may grant (such as allowing party officials to request a recount if the candidate does not).

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts

These search fields describe the various means by which states obtain funds to pay for a recount initiated by a candidate or voter(s). This search field exists only for candidate- and voter-initiated recounts, as these are the only initiating mechanisms for which states charge the cost to a private individual, rather than paying the cost from local or state public funds. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts

These search fields describe the various means by which states obtain funds to pay for a recount initiated by a candidate or voter(s). This search field exists only for candidate- and voter-initiated recounts, as these are the only initiating mechanisms for which states charge the cost to a private individual, rather than paying the cost from local or state public funds. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Challengers and Observers

 This search field describes the different ways in which states provide guidance for the public to participate as observers and challengers in the recount process. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent

This search field captures whether state law (including administrative rules and codes in addition to state statutes) provides any guidance and who has the authority to establish definitions of voter intent. While some states provide definitions and guidance for how voter intent is determined in statute, others use the statutes to delegate authority to an office such as the Secretary of State or State Election Board; other states neither delegate authority nor provide guidance (whether general or detailed) as to how voter intent should be determined. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Close Vote Margin

Generally, a “close vote margin” is when the margin of votes between two candidates or two answers on a ballot question is quite small, or close. What constitutes “close” varies by state, as does the actual method for calculating this margin; please see the Close Vote Margin section on each state profile for details both on the specific margin set and the method used to calculate the margin. We use the term in several places in the recount database:

  1. The Close Vote Margin search field captures the different requirements used by states to determine if the difference in votes received by competing candidates or answers on a ballot measure is small enough to warrant a recount. The search options include both percentages (in which the vote margin between candidates is divided by a given number of votes, such as the total votes cast for an office) as well as vote count differences (in which a set number of votes, rather than a percentage, is given as the requirement). Please note that the percentage options indicate the highest vote margin that will initiate a recount in a given state. See “Less than or equal to X%” for more details.
  2. Close vote margin as a search term for the Initiating Mechanisms search field is used to describe any state that has laws requiring that a recount take place if the difference in votes received by competing candidates or answers on a measure is small enough that it falls within a pre-established margin. (The actual language used by states to describe this type of recount varies greatly, but they are often referred to as “automatic” or “mandatory” recounts.)

Recounts initiated by a close vote margin differ from those recounts that are described as a candidate - or voter-initiated with a close vote margin required. For the latter, a voter or candidate must take action in order for a recount to begin, though the law limits their ability to request a recount to those times when there is a close vote margin. For the former, election officials are legally bound to begin recount proceedings regardless of the actions of candidates or voters. The term is also used more generally throughout the recount guide any time a small vote margin somehow comes into play for a recount (for instance, a state may require that a different counting method be used if the election results fall within a specified close vote margin). It is important to note that different methods are used from state to state to calculate the vote margin. Please see the Close Vote Margin section of each state profile for details.

Voter-Initiated Options

This search field describes the characteristics that shape the voter-initiated recount process in each state. These include both limitations a state may set (some states allow voters to request a recount only if there is a particular close vote margin) and privileges a state may grant (such as allowing voters to request recounts for offices as well as ballot measures). See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

Initiating Mechanisms

This search field describes both persons (candidates, voters, election officials, courts) and circumstances (close vote margins, or audit results mandating a recount) that may trigger a recount to occur after the initial counting of votes. See the individual search terms for further clarifications.

This information was updated 1/15/2020. 

Voting System Used

Paper ballot (optical scanners, hand counted paper ballots, or a mix)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method

Mix of hand count and retabulation
Counting method chosen by election official

In each county, a three-person recount board determines whether ballots will be recounted by hand or retabulated.  All ballots that were accepted for counting will be recounted.  If the ballots were hand-counted on election day, the recount board must count the ballots by hand.  If voting equipment was used on election day, the recount board may request that the ballots be recounted by voting equipment, may count the ballots by hand or may conduct both types of counts.  In the event a hand recount differs from a recount using voting equipment, the recount board must determine which results to give to the auditor. Iowa Code § 50.48(4)(a), § 50.49(2)IAC 721—26.105(2), IAC 721—26.104(1).  For additional information on recounts see the Election Administrator’s Guide available from the Office of the Iowa Secretary of State. 

Initiating Mechanisms

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

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:

Whenever the commissioner responsible for conducting an election suspects that errors in either the count or the performance of voting equipment may have affected the outcome of the election, or if precinct election officials report counting errors to the commissioner after the conclusion of the canvass of votes in the precinct, the  commissioner may submit a request for an administrative recount to the board of supervisors who would decide whether to order the recount.  IAC 721—21.25 and Iowa Code § 50.50.

Timing: IAC 721—21.25.

Close Vote Margin Options

Less than or equal to 1%
Vote count difference (not percentage based)
Initiated by request

Candidates and voters may petition for a taxpayer-funded recount when a close-vote margin exists.

For candidates in primary and general elections:
No bond is required when the difference between the candidates or nominees for the office is less than fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast, whichever is greater. Iowa Code § 50.48(2)(a) and Iowa Code § 43.56(2).

For ballot measures:
“If the difference between the affirmative and negative votes cast on the public measure is less than the greater of fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast for and against the question, a bond is not required. If approval by sixty percent of the votes cast is required for adoption of the public measure, no bond is required if the difference between sixty percent of the total votes cast for and against the question and the number of affirmative votes cast is less than the greater of fifty votes or one percent of the total number of votes cast.”  Iowa Code § 50.49(4).

Timing: For candidates, see Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a), (7) & (8)  and Iowa Code § 43.56. For ballot measures, see Iowa Code § 50.49.

Candidate-Initiated Options

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount

Any candidate on the ballot in any election may request a recount, including write-in candidates who are legally qualified to seek and hold the office. While candidates choose the initial precincts to be counted, a member of the recount board may expand the recount to other precincts in the same county. Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a) & (4)(b)

Timing:  Iowa Code § 50.48(1)(a), (7) & (8).

Voter-Initiated Options

Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

A recount for a ballot measure requires a petition by not less than ten eligible electors or a number of eligible electors equal to 1% of the total number of votes cast for the measure, whichever is greater.  Iowa Code § 50.49.

Timing: Iowa Code § 50.49.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts

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

Candidates are required to post a bond before the recount, unless the election results are within specified close vote margins. The amount varies depending on the office to be recounted and the population of the county. The bonds range from $100 to $1000. If the recount determines that the apparent winning candidate after the initial canvass is not in fact the winner, the bond is refunded to the candidate who requested the recount.  Iowa Code § 50.48(2).

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts

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

Initiators must post a $1000 bond  for statewide measures, or a $100 bond for all other measures. A bond is not required if the election results are within specified close vote margins. While candidates may have their bond refunded if the recount changes the outcome of the election, the statute authorizing ballot measure recounts states that the procedure for the recount shall follow certain provisions of section 50.48 (for candidate recounts) but those provisions do not include the subsection that requires the bond to be refunded if the outcome of election changes. Iowa Code § 50.49.

Challengers and Observers

Statutes specify that recount must be public
No statutory guidance for recount observers
No statutory guidance for recount challengers

Recounts are open to the public, but observers may not participate in the recount. IAC 721—26.106.

No statutory guidance is provided for recount initiators to appoint either observers or challengers. However, for candidate-initiated recounts, each recount board is composed of an appointee made by the candidate requesting the recount, an appointee made by the apparent winning candidate (or in some primaries the candidate with the highest vote count), and a third member agreed upon by the first two appointees. Iowa Code § 50.48(3)(a) and § 43.56.  

For voter-initiated recounts, each recount board is composed of an appointee made by the recount initiator, an appointee made by the election commissioner, and a third member agreed upon by the first two appointees. Iowa Code § 50.49(2).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent

Statutory guidance provided

Rules for determining voter intent are found in IAC 721.26.10 through 721.26.21 and 721.26.104(3).

State Has Audit Laws
Yes
Revision Notes

This information was updated 1/15/2020 using the 2020 Iowa Code, including the Acts of a permanent nature of the Eighty-sixth General Assembly, and using the Iowa Administrative Code (IAC) updated through 1/1/2020.