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 October 3, 2020.

Statute citations below can be found in Title 25 of the Unofficial Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes (25 P.S), “Elections and Electoral Districts,” Chapter 14, “Election Code (Articles XIV and XVII).  Free access to the consolidated and unconsolidated Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes is available here.  

Voting System Used

Paper ballots (hand marked paper ballots and ballot marking devices)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method

Mix of hand count and retabulation

The counting method is determined by the recount initiating mechanism.

If the recount is initiated by voters or county boards under 25 P.S., Chapter 14, Article XIV, 3154(e), or by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under 25 P.S. 3154(g), the following procedures apply.  In counties “in which an election district uses an electronic voting system utilizing paper ballots,” the counting method requires that the “County Board shall recount all ballots using manual, mechanical or electronic devices of a different type used for the specific election,” provided that all “ballots containing overvotes shall be counted manually.”  This means that either a recount or a retabulation is possible, provided that all ballots with overvotes must be recounted by hand. 25 P.S. 3154(e)(2) and (3).  

If the recount is initiated by county boards under 25 P.S. 3154(b) due to the discovery of a ballot accounting and reconciliation error, then a manual count of the ballots is “authorized,” and will include a “recount of the ballots” in the ballot box:  if “upon consideration by said return board of the returns before it from any election district and the certificates aforesaid, it shall appear that the total vote returned for any candidate or candidates for the same office or nomination or on any question exceeds the number of registered or enrolled electors in said election district or exceeds the total number of persons who voted in said election district or the total number of ballots cast therein, or, if it shall appear that the total number of partisan votes returned for any candidate or candidates for the same office or nomination at any primary exceeds the number of electors registered or enrolled in said district as members of that political party, or exceeds the total number of persons belonging to that party who voted in said district or the total number of ballots of that party cast therein, in any such case, such excess shall be deemed a discrepancy and palpable error, and shall be investigated by the return board, and no votes shall be recorded from such district until such investigation shall be had, and such excess shall authorize--(a) the summoning of the election officers, overseers, machine inspectors, and clerks to appear forthwith with any election papers in their possession; (b) the production of the ballot box before the return board, and the examination and scrutiny of all of its contents, and all of the registration and election documents whatever, relating to said district, in the presence of representatives of each party and candidate interested who are attending the canvass of such votes; and the recount of the ballots contained in said ballot box.”  25 P.S. 3154(b), (c) and (d).

If the recount is initiated by voters or by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under 25 P.S. 3261, the ballot boxes will be opened and the “entire vote of the election district” will be counted. 25 P.S. 3261.  This remedy, however, is only available as a judicial proceeding commenced in or by “the court of common pleas, or a judge thereof, of the county in which any election district is located in which ballots were used.”

Initiating Mechanisms

Close vote margin
Voter-initiated
Election official-initiated

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:
When a discrepancy is found in the reconciliation of the number of registered electors and the total vote, the county board is authorized to “recount the ballots.” See 25 P.S. 3154(b), quoted above.

In districts using paper ballots electronically tabulated in the district, when a discrepancy is found in the comparison of the sealed and unsealed general returns, and the subsequent examination of the documentation, then the county board “shall” recount the ballots. 25 P.S. 3154(d)(1) & (5).

In districts where electronically tabulated ballots are used in conjunction with central ballot tabulation, a discrepancy in the number of persons voting between the computer return sheets and the sealed general returns will require the count board to recount the ballots. 25 P.S. 3154(d)(4).

Moreover, county boards “shall conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast” whenever “it shall appear that there is a discrepancy in the returns of any election district…”  The county board may also conduct a recount or recanvass “of their own motion.” 25 P.S. 3154(e).

Timing: 25 P.S. 3154(f).

Close Vote Margin Options

Less than or equal to 0.5%
Initiated automatically

Close vote margin recounts  are initiated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and  are only available for candidates or ballot questions “appearing on the ballot in every election district in [the] Commonwealth.”  They are required when the margin is 0.5% or less of all votes cast for the office or ballot question. 25 P.S. 3154(g)(1)

Counties receive a reimbursement from the state for the recount. 25 P.S. 3154(g)(8).

Timing: 25 P.S. 3154(g)(2), (g)(5) & (g)(6).   

Candidate-Initiated Options

While candidates cannot file a direct request for a recount, they may appeal the “order or decision of any county board regarding the computation or canvassing of the returns of any primary or election, or regarding any recount or recanvass thereof.” During the appeal process, the court may determine that a recount is necessary. 25 P.S. 3157.

Timing:  P.S. 3157(a).

Voter-Initiated Options

Voters may request recounts for offices
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Pennsylvania uses the terms “election district” to identify a district, division or precinct, within which all qualified electors vote at one polling place.  

Voters may initiate recounts with the county boards with a “petition of three voters of any district, verified by affidavit, that an error, although not apparent on the face of the returns, has been committed….” The county board shall then “conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast.”  25 P.S 3154(e).

Voters may also initiate recounts in the court of common pleas  under 25 P.S. 3261.  Voters may petition for a recount in any general, municipal, special or primary election, for either an office or a question.   These recount requests must be made by a verified petition of at least three voters per precinct or election district.  25 P.S. 3261(a).  Unless the recount initiators are alleging a particular act of fraud or error and offer evidence supporting the allegation, then the  recount “shall include all election districts in which ballots were cast for the office in question” and that the initiators' petition “must be filed in each election district.” 25 P.S. 3263(a)(1).

Timing: For voter initiated recounts under 25 P.S. 3261, see 25 P.S. 3263(a)(1) & 3261(f).  For voter initiated recounts under 25 P.S. 3154(e), see 3154(f).  

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts

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

In the case of voter-initiated recounts filed with the court of common pleas, voters must either deposit $50 in cash or present a bond of $100 with their petition for a recount for each election district. 25 P.S. 3261(b).  If “fraud or substantial error” is discovered during the course of the recount the bond is cancelled or the deposit is returned to the petitioners. 25 P.S. 3261(d).

Challengers and Observers

Party/candidate or initiator has statutory authority to appoint observers

There are no statutes requiring that recounts be conducted in public.  

For recounts under 25 P.S. 3154(e), "each . . . candidate may be present in person, or by attorney, and each [party or political body affected by the recount or recanvass] may send two representatives to be present at such recount or recanvass." 

For recounts ordered by the Secretary under 25 P.S. 3154(g), "A candidate affected by the recount and recanvass may be present, in person or by attorney, at the recount and recanvass” and “A party or body affected by the recount and recanvass may send two representatives to the recount and recanvass."  25 P.S. 3154(g)(4).

For recounts under court jurisdiction, where paper ballots are used, “each  . . . candidate may be present at such recount, either in person or by his attorney or by his duly authorized representative…." 25 P.S. 3261(c).  

“Any candidate, attorney or watcher present at any recount of ballots or recanvass of voting machines shall be entitled to examine the ballots, or the voting machine and to raise any objections regarding the same….”  25 P.S. 2650(c).

Rules for Determining Voter Intent

Statutory guidance provided

Guidelines for counting voter marks are provided in 25 P.S. 3063.  See also the guidelines for counting irregular ballots in 25 P.S. 3155.

State Has Audit Laws
Yes
Revision Notes

This information was updated October 10, 2020 using Title 25 of the Unofficial Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes (25 P.S.) current through the 2020 Regular Session Act 78.