California Recount Laws

This information was updated in May 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

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. Those regulations can be found here.

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

Close vote margin options:
Less than or equal to 1%
Vote count difference (not percentage-based)
Initiated by request

The Governor can order a state-funded manual recount of all votes cast for a statewide office or state ballot measure in a primary or general election if margin of victory is less than or equal to the lesser of 1,000 votes or 0.00015 of the number of all votes cast.  See Section 15645.

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 order further recounts without a petition from officials based on its observation of the recount. See Section 15640.

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

Election Official-Initiated Recounts:

Elections officials may also initiate recounts without petitioning a court under given conditions. See Section 15610.

Timing: No deadlines are provided in the state statutes limiting when election officials may initiate a recount. However, they may initiate a recount only if “no election contest is pending.”

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 can request that a county elections official conduct a recount. Details on voter- initiated recounts can be found in Section 15620.  The law states that such requests may be filed for “candidates for any office, for slates of presidential electors, or for or against any measure, provided the office, slate, or measure is not voted on statewide. The request shall specify on behalf of which candidate, slate of electors, or position on a measure (affirmative or negative) it is filed.” The request must also specify in which counties the recount is to take place: for elections that occur in more than one county, the recount may be requested for "any or all of the affected counties."

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 voter may file a request to recount any of the remaining precincts, up to 24 hours after the initial recount.  See Section 15623. Statewide offices may also be recounted, but the request is filed with the Secretary of State. See Section 15621.

Timing: The request must be filed within five days of the official canvass. 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.

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 recount costs, to be established by the Secretary of State and 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.

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 statute requires that the recount must be held publicly and that notice of the recount be posted at least one day prior to the recount; see Sections 15628 and 15629. State regulations also allow for “any person” to observe the recount, “subject to space limitations.” See the California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Chapter 8.1, Article 1, Section 20820. The Code of Regulations states 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” from each of “interested parties,” qualified political parties, and “any bona fide association of citizens or a media organization.” Section 20816, "Location of Recount" - Section 20811. “Definitions,” Subsection (c) also defines “interested parties” to include the voter who has requested a recount.

The law is somewhat less clear regarding challengers and official observers. While it does not state that challengers representing the recount initiator have a right to be present at the recount, it does mention the ability for ballots to be challenged, and does not stipulate requirements or restrictions on who may bring such challenges. See Section 15631. Additionally, Section 15630 specifies that the voter initiating the recount is allowed to request examination of all ballots

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Guidance for determining voter intent can be found here.

Also see the "Challengers and Observers" section that references some statutory guidance on how ballots are adjudicated when challenged for incompleteness, ambiguity or other defects.

State Has Audit Laws: 
Revision Notes: 

Links reviewed for currency, August 2020.