Pennsylvania Recount Laws

This information was updated Nov. 3, 2018.

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).  The index to the statutes can be found here.  

Voting System Used: 

Mixed paper ballot and DREs without VVPAT

Direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems without voter verified paper trails are used exclusively in 50 counties. Four counties also use DRES without VVPATs in combination with other systems.  Fayette, Bedford, and Chester counties provide paperless DREs in combination with optical scanners for precinct based scanning and scanning for absentee ballot tabulation, and Lancaster county allows precinct-based scanners for polling place voting.  Only 13 counties (Adams, Centre, Franklin, Fulton, Huntington, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lackawanna, Mifflin, Montour, Snyder, Susquehanna and Wayne) use only optical scanners with paper ballots and paper ballot marking devices.  Thus, the vast majority of the state is neither independently auditable, nor independently recountable.

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method : 

Mix of hand count, retabulation and electronic review

The counting method is determined by the recount initiating mechanism and the type of voting system used. 
 
For districts that use paper ballots:

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.   There are no counties in Pennsylvania that use paper ballots other than in conjunction with electronic voting systems.  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).  The Secretary of the Commonwealth has published guidance pertaining to the canvassing of votes here, although it does not appear to include guidance pertaining to recount procedures. 

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.”

For districts using paperless direct-recording electronic machines (DREs):

Only an electronic review is performed.  See 25 P.S.  3154 (d)(2) and (e)(1) and 3262 for review procedures.  

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)

Close vote margin recounts could theoretically also take place under a court’s jurisdiction “if three qualified electors of the election district shall file, as hereinafter provided, a petition duly verified by them, alleging that upon information which they consider reliable they believe that fraud or error, although not manifest on the general return of votes made therefrom, was committed in the computation of the votes cast for all offices or for any particular office or offices in such election district, or in the marking of the ballots, or otherwise in connection with such ballots. It shall not be necessary for the petitioners to specify in their petition the particular act of fraud or error which they believe to have been committed, nor to offer evidence to substantiate the allegations of their petition.” 25 P.S. 3261 and 3262.   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) and (g)(6).   For recounts ordered by the Secretary and conducted under the jurisdiction of the court see 25 P.S. 3261 and 3262.

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, which governs  recounts requested in counties using paper ballots or they may initiate a recanvass under 25 P.S. 3262, which governs  counties using voting machines (DREs).  In the counties using paper ballots and in those using voting machines, 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 accompanied by the signatures of at least three voters per precinct or election district.  25 P.S. 3261(a) and 3262(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 and 3262, see 25 P.S. 3263(a)(1), 3261(f) and 3262(c). 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) and 3262(a.1).  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) and 3262(b.1)

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).  In districts where voting machines are used, "each candidate whose name appears on the ballot labels . . .  may be present at such recanvass, either in person or by his attorney, or by his duly authorized representative...." 25 P.S. 3262(b).

“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 November 3, 2018 using Title 25 of the Unofficial Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes (25 P.S.) current through 2018 Regular Session Act 76.