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 on October 12, 2018. 

Voting System Used

Mixed paper ballot and DREs with VVPAT

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method

Mix of hand count, retabulation and electronic review.
Counting method chosen by initiator

Washington is a vote-by-mail state.  Most ballots are cast on paper ballots; however, counties use direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) with voter-verified paper trails for accessible voting in vote centers. In the 2016 general election, over 3 million ballots were cast statewide and only 12,576 were cast on accessible voting units. 

For optional candidate and voter-initiated 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." Revised Code of Washinton (RCW) § 29A.64.011.

For mandatory recounts initiated by close-vote-margins, the recount is a retablulation 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 Options" 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.  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.

Machine recounts of DREs are conducted by reloading individual ballot data packs or cartridges and conducting an electronic review. Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 434-264-060.  Manual recounts of DREs are conducted by hand counting the continuous paper record from the DRE. WAC 434-264-070

See WAC 434-264 for additional details on counting methods for recounts.

Initiating Mechanisms

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

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 treatment or disposition of a ballot.  A “recanvass,” which occurs before certification, may include a hand count of ballots, a retabulation, or simply counting the total number of ballots.  Note that “recounts” take place after certification. Recanvasses may only be initiated by election officials.  RCW §§ 29A.60.210 and 29A.64.011. WAC 434-262-050.

Timing:  RCW § 29A.60.210.

Close Vote Margin Options

Less than or equal to 0.5%
Vote count difference (not percentage based)
Initiated automatically

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 less than 2,000 votes and also less than 0.5% of the total votes cast for the candidates.  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 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. However, 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 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. 

There are no mandatory recounts for state advisory votes or local measures. There are also no recounts for close vote totals between the first and second candidates in a primary election. See the Recount FAQ from the Office of the Washington Secretary of State. 

Timing: RCW § 29A.64.021(1)(a). 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 a general or primary election. RCW § 29A.64.011. If the request is to recount  only 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.  RCW § 29A.64.050.

Timing: RCW §§ 29A.64.011 and 29A.64.030.  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 or more registered voters may request a recount for all votes or a portion of the votes cast for a question or issue. 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.  RCW § 29A.64.050.

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

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.
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.  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. 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. 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.  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 434-264-30), “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.” WAC 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. 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.  See also the publication:  Voter Intent-Statewide Standards on What is a Vote, published by the Office of the Washington Secretary of State.

State Has Audit Laws
Yes
Revision Notes

Links were reviewed for currency, July 2020

This information was revised 10/12/18 using the Revised Code of Washington (including updates to 7/2/18) and using the Washington Administrative Code (updated through 4/19/18).