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 September 6, 2018.

All references to statutes below are to sections of the General Laws of Massachusetts (2019), Part I, Title VIII, Chapter 54

Voting System Used

Paper ballot  (hand marked paper ballots, BMDs for accessibility)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method

Mix of hand count and retabulation
Counting method chosen by initiator

In jurisdictions using optical scan voting machines, ballots are retabulated on the optical scanners unless the recount initiators request that the ballots be counted by hand.  Section 135B.  For general counting procedures, see sections 105-106. See also the counting instructions on pages 6-9 in the detailed recount procedures published by the Massachusetts Elections Division, Election Recounts.

Initiating Mechanisms

Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Candidate-Initiated Options

Close vote margin required (for district-wide and statewide recounts)

Candidates may initiate a recount in primaries and general elections by petitioning the local election officials in the cities or towns in which the recount is being requested. The petitions must specify that the elections records are erroneous and that a recount will affect the results of that election. In addition they must specify particular reasons for the recount. All petitions must be accompanied by the signatures of registered voters as indicated below. 

For local elections, petitioners must file a separate recount petition for each ward of a city or precinct of a town in which a recount is requested. Each petition must be signed by the required number of registered voters.  For city wards (except Boston) at least 10 voters must sign.  Fifty or more voters are required per ward in Boston.  For towns over 2,500 voters with precincts, at least ten voters per precinct must sign. For towns under 2,500 voters without precincts, at least 10 voters must sign one petition.  Section 135, paragraphs 1-2.  See also the chart of signature requirements on page 4 of Election Recounts.

Statewide recounts for offices to be voted upon at state elections by all the voters of the Commonwealth may be requested if the margin of victory is not more than 0.5% of the votes cast for the office.  The petition must be signed in the aggregate by at least one thousand voters. Sec. 135, para. 6.

District-wide recounts for offices to be voted upon at state elections may be requested if the margin of victory is not more than 0.5% of the votes cast for the office. The petitions must be signed by one-fourth the number of voters required to sign nomination papers for state primary candidates.

Statewide and district-wide recounts may also be requested for state primaries and for presidential primaries (except for ward and town committees) in the same manner as for state elections. Sec. 135, para. 7.

Timing:  Deadlines applicable to the filing of petitions, the commencement of the recount, and the transmission and release of results are found in section 135, paragraphs (1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (8), and (12).

Voter-Initiated Options

Close vote margin required (for district-wide and statewide recounts)
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

For district-wide and statewide recounts only, voters may obtain a recount if the difference between the number of affirmative and negative votes cast on a ballot question is not more than one half of one per cent of the total number of votes cast on that question. For local ballot measures, there is no close-vote-margin requirement.

The number of voters required to sign a petition for a recount of a ballot question vary for local, district-wide and statewide elections. For further details see section 135, paragraphs 1, 6, and 7.  See also Election Recounts, pp. 2-4 & 10-11.

Timing: Deadlines applicable to the filing of petitions, the commencement of the recount, and the transmission and release of results are found in section 135,  paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 12.

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts

Paid entirely by state or county

There is no reference in the statutes to any requirement for the petitioners to post bond or pay for the costs of recount.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts

Paid entirely by state or county

There is no reference in the statutes to the need for petitioners to post bond or pay for the costs of recount.

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

“Each candidate for the office in question or person representing each side of a ballot question is allowed to witness the recount, accompanied by one or more counsel if desired. Each candidate or representative may also be represented by agents. Up to one agent for each officer or clerk reading the ballots or recording the votes is allowed. These agents must be appointed by the candidate or counsel in writing and have the right, along with the candidate and counsel, to watch and inspect the ballots, tally sheets and all other papers used in the recount, and to watch every individual act performed in connection with the recount.” Election Recounts p. 5. See also sec. 135, para. 8.

“When a ballot is protested by any agent, the tally clerk should not record the vote. The tally clerk should call the runner to take the ballot to the registrars’ table where they may make their determination in the presence of the candidates’ counsel.” Election Recounts, p. 7.

“Only those people directly involved in the recount can be present within the recount area; however, the public and the press must be admitted into the room where the recount is being conducted, to observe the proceedings. Members of the public must remain outside the recount area.” Election Recounts, p. 6. 

Rules for Determining Voter Intent

Statutory guidance provided

Citations to court decisions and examples of how to interpret marks are referenced in Election Recounts. See the sections on page 7, “The Will of the Voters;” page 8, “Write-in and Sticker Votes;” and pages 12-15, “Examples of Contested Ballot Marks.”

State Has Audit Laws
Yes
Revision Notes

Links updated 8/30/2020.