Washington Recount Laws

This information was updated on October 12, 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

Washington is a vote-by-mail state.  Most ballots are cast on paper ballots; however, counties use direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) with voter-verified paper trails for accessible voting in vote centers. In the 2016 general election, over 3 million ballots were cast statewide and only 12,576 were cast on accessible voting units. 

For optional candidate and voter-initiated recounts, the applicants have a choice of counting method and the application for a recount "must specify whether the recount will be done manually or by the vote tally system." Revised Code of Washinton (RCW) § 29A.64.011.

For mandatory recounts initiated by close-vote-margins, the recount is a retablulation of the ballots (see the definition of "recount" at RCW § 29A.04.139); however if the vote margin is small enough, a hand recount is required (see "Close Vote Margin Options" below for details.)  When a hand count is required in a close-vote-margin recount, the apparent winning candidate and the next leading candidate may jointly choose to request an alternative method of conducting the recount.  RCW § 29A.64.021(3).  According to the Office of the Washington Secretary of state, when a hand count is not required in a close-vote-margin recount, the county auditors may, at their discretion, choose to conduct a hand count.

Machine recounts of DREs are conducted by reloading individual ballot data packs or cartridges and conducting an electronic review. Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 434-264-060.  Manual recounts of DREs are conducted by hand counting the continuous paper record from the DRE. WAC 434-264-070

See WAC 434-264 for additional details on counting methods for recounts.

Initiating Mechanisms: 

Close vote margin
Candidate-initiated
Voter-initiated
Election official-initiated

Election official-initiated recounts
The county canvassing board may recanvass the ballots or voting devices when it finds that there is an apparent discrepancy or inconsistency in the return, or that election staff has made an error regarding the treatment or disposition of a ballot.  A “recanvass,” which occurs before certification, may include a hand count of ballots, a retabulation, or simply counting the total number of ballots.  Note that “recounts” take place after certification. Recanvasses may only be initiated by election officials.  RCW §§ 29A.60.210 and 29A.64.011. WAC 434-262-050.

Timing:  RCW § 29A.60.210.

Close Vote Margin Options: 

Less than or equal to 0.5%
Vote count difference (not percentage based)
Initiated automatically

The close vote margin leading to mandatory recount in Washington has two components. For all offices, in both general and primary elections, a recount is required if the margin is less than 2,000 votes and also less than 0.5% of the total votes cast for the candidates.  The second component determines the counting method used for the recount. For statewide offices, if the difference between the votes cast for the apparent winner and the next leading candidate is less than 1,000 votes and also less than 0.25% of the total votes cast, the recount must be conducted by hand. For all other offices, a hand recount is required if the difference is both less than 150 votes and also less than 0.25%. If the vote margin is larger, the votes are to be retabulated. However, the apparent winning candidate and the next leading candidate may jointly choose to request an alternative method of conducting the recount. See RCW § 29A.64.021 and the definition of "recount" in RCW § 29A.04.139. Note that the county auditor may, at their option, choose to do a hand count (see "Counting Method" section above.)

To initiate a recount for a statewide measure, the close vote margin must be both less than 2,000 votes and also less than 0.5% of the total number cast for the measure. See RCW § 29A.64.090.  According to the Washington Secretary of State, recounts for statewide measures follow the same manual count rules applied to recounts for offices. 

There are no mandatory recounts for state advisory votes or local measures. There are also no recounts for close vote totals between the first and second candidates in a primary election. See the Recount FAQ from the Office of the Washington Secretary of State. 

Timing: RCW § 29A.64.021(1)(a). See also "Timing Notes" below.

Candidate-Initiated Options : 

Candidate determines how many/which precincts to recount
Party official may petition for candidate

Candidates or officers of political parties may request “a recount of the votes or a portion of the votes” cast for their respective office in a general or primary election. RCW § 29A.64.011. If the request is to recount  only a portion of the votes, and if this partial recount changes the outcome of the election, then a complete recount of all the votes must be held.  RCW § 29A.64.050.

Timing: RCW §§ 29A.64.011 and 29A.64.030.  See also "Timing Notes" below.
 

Voter-Initiated Options: 

Voters determine how many/which precincts to recount
Voters may request recounts for initiatives/questions

Any group of five or more registered voters may request a recount for all votes or a portion of the votes cast for a question or issue. RCW § 29A.64.011.  If the request is to count a portion of the votes and if this partial recount changes the outcome of the election, then a complete recount of all the votes must be held.  RCW § 29A.64.050.

Timing: RCW § 29A.64.011 and 29A.64.030.  See also "Timing Notes" below.

Timing Notes:  The Office of the Washington Secretary of State has provided the following information regarding the timing requirements for recounts. 

RCW § 29A.64.030, 2nd paragraph, applies to all types of recounts.
  
Timeline for offices/ballot issues filed with Secretary of State (see RCW §​ 29A.24.070 for the filing officers for declarations of candidacy):

  • If the recount is a requested recount, the application must be submitted within two days of the certification of the results of the election.
  • For all types of recounts, the Secretary of State calls for a recount within 3 days of certifying (or receiving a requested application) and may set the day by which the recount must be certified by the county canvassing boards.
  • Each canvassing board sets the date, time, and place for the recount to take place in its county; there are no deadlines.  However, if the Secretary of State has set a certification deadline for the county canvassing boards, each county must determine a date that will allow the recount to meet the Secretary’s certification deadline.
  • Each canvassing board notifies the affected parties at least one day before the recount is to take place.
  • Counties send the recount results to the Secretary of State upon completion of the recount; there are no deadlines unless the Secretary of State sets a certification date for the county canvassing boards.
  • Secretary of State certifies amended results; there are no deadlines. 

Timeline for offices filed with a county:

  • If the recount is a requested recount, the application must be submitted within two days of the certification of the results of the election.
  • For all types of recounts, the canvassing board sets the date, time, and place for the recount to take place in its county; there are no deadlines.
  • The canvassing board notifies the affected parties at least one day before the recount is to take place.
  • The canvassing board certifies the amended results; there are no deadlines.
Cost for Candidate-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount begins

The initiator is liable for the entire cost of the recount.  If the recount changes the outcome of the election there are not costs to the initiator.  RCW § 29A.64.081. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting method used.  The deposit is 25 cents per ballot cast for hand recounts or 15 cents per ballot cast for retabulations. RCW § 29A.64.030

Cost for Voter-Initiated Recounts: 

Initiator pays set or per jurisdiction fee
Initiator pays deposit or bond before recount begins

The initiators are liable for the entire cost of the recount. If the recount changes the outcome of the election, there are no costs to the initiators. RCW § 29A.64.081. The amount of the deposit depends on the counting method used.  The deposit is 25 cents per ballot cast for hand recounts or 15 cents per ballot cast for retabulations.  RCW § 29A.64.030.

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

RCW § 29A.64.030 states that the proceedings of the canvassing board during a recount are public, and that subject to guidelines (see WAC 434-264-30), “all interested persons may attend and witness a recount.”  Recount initiators may appoint observers as provided for in RCW § 29A.64.041.  Observers may also be appointed by “the two major political parties.” WAC 434-264-030(2). The Secretary of State or County Auditor may limit the number of observers on each side if a greater number would cause undue delay or disruption of the recount process. RCW § 29A.64.041.

Rules for Determining Voter Intent: 

Statutory guidance provided

Instructions for determining voter intent are provided in WAC 434-261-086. Additional guidance on write-in votes is provided in RCW § 29A.60.040.  See also the publication:  Voter Intent-Statewide Standards on What is a Vote, published by the Office of the Washington Secretary of State.

State Has Audit Laws: 
Yes
Revision Notes: 

This information was revised 10/12/18 using the Revised Code of Washington (including updates to 7/2/18) and using the Washington Administrative Code (updated through 4/19/18).