Tennessee Recount Laws

This information was updated 2/15/2020

The Tennessee Code Annotated can be accessed at: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode. See Title  2 "Elections."

Voting System Used: 

Mixed paper ballot and DREs without VVPAT

In 2008, Tennessee passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, requiring all 95 counties to use optical scan voting systems with paper ballots by the November 2010 general election. In 2010, the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act was amended to delay implementation of this requirement until “no later than the general election in 2012” (Public Chapter 612).  In 2011, the act was amended again to remove the requirement and instead make it optional for counties to use optical scan voting systems (Public Chapter 301).  In 2020, approximately 20 of Tennessee's counties use ballot making devices or hand marked paper ballots. The other 75 counties use direct recording electronic (DRE) systems without a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).  

For more details, visit Verified Voting.

Counting Method : 

Mix of hand count, retabulation and electronic review 
Counting method chosen by election official 

The count may be by hand or by retabulation. T.C.A. § 2-17-117(c) provides that “[t]he court or body with jurisdiction of a contested election shall determine if the recount shall be conducted by hand or with automated tabulators.”

Most counties in Tennessee currently use only direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) without a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).  For those DREs, only an electronic review can be conducted. During contested elections, for example, “any party to the contest who challenges either the accuracy of the voting machines or the accuracy of the election officials' recording of the vote on the machines may have the machine or machines brought into court to be examined by the parties or as evidence,” but “[t]he total votes shown on the machine shall be conclusive unless the court finds reason to believe that the vote shown on the machine is not accurate.” T.C.A. § 2-17-110.  

Initiating Mechanisms: 

Court-ordered 

Court-Ordered Recounts:

Tennessee statute allows “any court, primary board, legislative body, or tribunal” with jurisdiction over contested elections to initiate a recount of ballots for both general and primary elections, but only under limited circumstances. These include a tie vote; an indication of fraud, or the malfunction of a voting machine; however, in each case only when an indiction that enough votes to alter the election have been affected.  Recounts may also be ordered in “any other instance” in which such a body “finds that a recount is warranted.” T.C.A. § 2-17-117(a). If a recount is ordered, all ballots cast in the election must be recounted. T.C.A. § 2-17-117(b).  

“The incumbent office holder and any candidate for the office may contest the outcome of an election for the office,” and “[a]ny campaign committee or individual which has charge of a campaign for the adoption or rejection of a question submitted to the people may contest the election on the question.”  T.C.A. § 2-17-101(b).  An election contest must be initiated by one of the foregoing before it proceeds to the recount stage, and the recount must be ordered by the body having jurisdiction over the election contest.

Timing: T.C.A. § 2-17-1052-17-106(a).

Close Vote Margin Options: 

N/A

While a court or other authorized body may initiate a recount in the instance of a tie vote, they are not required to do so.  T.C.A. § 2-17-117(a).  Note also that in the absence of a contested election, ties will be resolved in other ways, although not through the conduct of a recount. In general, the state election commission will cast the deciding vote, except that the county or municipal legislative body may either cast the deciding vote or call for a run-off election in the case of elections under their respective jurisdictions; a joint session of the general assembly will cast the deciding vote in the case of elections for governor; the governor will cast the deciding vote in the case of elections for representatives in congress; and tie votes in senate elections shall void the election and a new one will be ordered. T.C.A. § 2-8-111 & 2-8-114.

Candidate-Initiated Options : 

Contested Election

Candidates may initiate a contested election through which a court or other authorized body may order a recount. T.C.A. § 2-17-117(a) & 2-17-101(b) .  As noted above, candidates cannot request the recount directly; that is left up to the discretion of the court or authorized body and is only allowed under certain circumstances. 

For primary contests see T.C.A. § 2-17-104.  For legislative contests see T.C.A. § 2-17-102.  For gubernatorial contests see T.C.A. § 2-18-101.  For presidential contests see T.C.A. § 2-17-103.

Voter-Initiated Options: 

“Any campaign committee or individual which has charge of a campaign for the adoption or rejection of a question submitted to the people may contest the election on the question.” T.C.A. § 2-17-101(b).  As in the case with candidate-initiated contests, in its discretion and only under certain circumstances, the court or other authorized body may order a recount. T.C.A. § 2-17-117(a).  

Challengers and Observers : 

No statutory guidance for recount observers
No statutory guidance for recount challengers

We found no statutes or rules governing observers or challengers during the court-ordered recount process, or requiring that recounts be conducted publicly. 

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Most counties in Tennessee vote on DRE voting systems without a VVPAT.  However, some guidelines and rules for interpreting voter intent on paper ballots can be found  in T.C.A. § 2-7-133 and  Rule 1360-2-12-.05(7).

State Has Audit Laws: 
Yes
Revision Notes: 

This information was updated 2/15/2020 using the Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.) current through the 2019 Regular Session of the Legislature.  The Rules and Regulations of the Tennessee Department of State effective as of 2/15/2020 were reviewed.