Massachusetts Recount Laws

This information was updated September 6, 2018.

All references to statutes below are to sections of the General Laws of Massachusetts (2017), Part I, Title VIII, Chapter 54

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 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