Rhode Island Recount Laws

This information was updated 5/26/2020. 

Voting System Used: 

Paper ballot (hand marked paper ballots, ballot marking devices for accessibility)

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method : 

Mix of hand count, retabulation and electronic review

Although Rhode Island uses paper ballots tabulated by optical scanners, only write-in candidates are allowed to request a hand recount.  Rhode Island General Laws (R.I. Gen Laws) Section 17-19.37.2(2).  Other candidates, as well as voters initiating recounts on questions, may request only machine retabulations, R.I. Gen. Laws Sections 17-19.37.1(1) & (2), and 17-19.37.3(1)(b), and electronic reviews (conducted “by re-reading the programmed memory device or devices and comparing the results and totals obtained at such recount with the results and totals obtained on election night”), R.I. Gen. Laws Sections 17-19.37.1(3) and 17-19.37.3(1)(a) & (2).

The method available to the petitioner depends on the margin of victory in the election.   R.I. Gen. Laws Sections 17-19.37.1 and 17-19.37.3.

Initiating Mechanisms: 

Election official-initiated
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated

Election Official Initiated

Election officials may initiate recounts in primaries: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent the state board, acting on its own motion, from ordering a recount or taking appropriate action in response to any error, irregularity, or impropriety in the conduct of any facet of the primary which comes to its attention at any time prior to the certification of the results of the primary.” R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-15.34.

For general elections, “At any time prior to the certification of the results of a particular election, the state board of elections may, upon its own motion, investigate any allegation of error, irregularity, or impropriety in the conduct of any facet of the election which comes to its attention and may, upon its own motion, take appropriate action based upon the findings of the investigation."  R.I. Gen. Laws  Section 17-22-5.1.

Candidate-Initiated Options : 

Close vote margin required

Rhode Island statutes divide candidates into those for “public office” and those for “non-public office” (such as political party offices). The statutes specify that both “a candidate for election or nomination for election to public office” and “a candidate for any office other than a public office” may request recounts. However, there is a close vote margin requirement which varies depending on the number of candidates to be elected to the office and the number of votes cast. For a list of the vote margin requirements for candidates seeking public office, see R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-19-37.1.  For a list of the vote margin requirements for candidates seeking non-public offices, see R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-19-37.3(2).

Restrictions on Counting Method for Candidate-Initiated Recounts:

Candidates for public office who meet the specified close vote margin requirement of Section 17-19-37.1(1) & (2) may request only a machine retabulation, not a hand recount, of the ballots cast. Candidates for public office who do not meet the close vote margin requirements, but who trail the apparent winning candidate by 5% or less of the total votes cast for the respective office, may request an electronic review, but not a retabulation or hand count. R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-19-37.1(3).

Recounts requested by candidates in presidential primaries may only be conducted by the re-reading of the programmed memory devices; there is no provision for a hand count or a machine retabulation. As with other contests, there is a close vote margin requirement; in this case, the difference must be two hundred votes or less. R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-12.1-14.

The only candidates who may request a hand recount are write-in candidates for public office. These candidates must meet the close vote margin requirement that applies and must also receive “a minimum of ten (10) votes or one percent (1%) of the votes cast in the race, whichever is greater.” R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-19-37.2

Timing: For primary elections see R.I. Gen. Laws Section 17-15-34.  For general elections see R.I. Gen. Laws Sections 17-19.36 and 17-19.37.  For additional details on timing, see the Rhode Island Board of Elections' Guide to Election Recounts

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Close vote margin required
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

There are no provisions by which voters may request a hand recount. However, a person, group, or organization “of ‘recognized standing' regarding a ballot question” may request either a retabulation or an electronic review for that question, depending on the margin of victory. The close vote margin requirement varies depending on the number of votes cast in the election. The vote margin must be 2% or less for elections where fewer than 100,000 votes are cast, and 1% or less where 100,000 votes or more are cast. If the initial vote margin is less than 0.5% or 500 votes, whichever is less, or if after the electronic review, the new results show that the vote margin meets either of those requirements, a retabulation may occur. R.I. Gen. Laws Sections 17-19.37.3(1)(a) and (b)

Timing: See page 1 of the Guide to Election Recounts.   

Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

No statutory guidance provided

We were not able to locate statutes or rules regarding the parties responsible for recount costs.

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

No statutory guidance provided

We were not able to locate statutes or rules regarding the parties responsible for recount costs.

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

Candidates and/or their representatives may be present at recounts, and “the public and members of the media are invited to observe the proceedings.” See page 2 of the Guide to Election Recounts.     

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

We found no statutes in Rhode Island's General Laws regarding voter intent. However, the State Board of Election's document on rules “relating to tabulation of mail ballots” states: “Voter intent may be determined if the voter circled, checked or made any other distinguishing marks next to a candidate’s name.” See page 2 of the Guide to Mail Ballot Tabulation

State Has Audit Laws: 
Yes
Revision Notes: 

This information was updated 5/26/2020 using the General Laws of Rhode Island (R.I. Gen. Laws) current through Nov. 15, 2019.