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About recounts

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By Tom Wilmoth

In Virginia, there are no automatic recounts; only the presumptive losing candidate can ask for a recount; and only in cases where the difference between the apparent winning and losing candidate is not more than 1 percent of the total votes cast for the two candidates. The apparent loser cannot request a recount until after the election is certified.

The State Board of Elections will meet to certify the results for all federal offices on Monday, Nov. 24. An apparent losing candidate has 10 days from the certification date to request a recount. The local electoral boards certify all other election results for local offices.

If the candidate is requesting a recount of an election for a statewide office, they would file the petition with the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond. A candidate requesting a recount for any other office files the recount petition with the Circuit Court where the candidate being challenged resides.

As soon as the petition is filed, the chief judge of the Circuit Court notifies the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, who will designate two other judges to sit with the chief judge. The recount court outlines all procedures and the manner in which the recount will be conducted.

In preparation for the recount, the clerks of the circuit court secure all paper ballots and other election materials in a sealed box and place all the sealed boxes in a vault or room closed to the public or to anyone other than the clerk and their staff.

The determination of the votes in a recount is based on votes actually cast in the election (including counted absentee and provisional ballots). It will not take into account spoiled ballots or other ballots that were ruled invalid.

For paper ballots, the recount officials will hand count the ballots according to the standards established by the State Board. These are the same hand-counting standards that were used when the ballots were hand counted in the election.

For direct recording electronic machines (DREs), the recount officials will read the results from the printouts sealed in the clerk’s office.

For optical scan ballots, the recount officials will rerun all the ballots through a tabulator programmed to count only the votes for the office in question and separate out any ballots with write-in votes, “undervotes” or “overvotes” for hand counting. This ensures that any mark by the voter which could not be read by the voting equipment will be considered in a recount (for example, if a voter circled the name rather than properly filling in the bubble or arrow). Legislation (Deeds, S.B. 35) was passed by the 2008 General Assembly to require that all optical scan ballots in a recount be rerun and separated for examination. Previously, this was left to the judgment of the recount court.

At the conclusion of the recount, after allowing the parties to inspect any questioned ballots, and after hearing arguments, the court will certify to the State Board and the electoral board the candidate with the most votes as the winner. The recount procedure is final and not subject to appeal.

The counties and cities involved in a recount are responsible for paying their respective costs for the recount if the margin between the two candidates is half a percent or less, or if the candidate requesting the recount is declared the winner by the recount court. Otherwise, the candidate who requested the recount must pay the costs. For more information on costs refer to section 24.2-802 (F) in the Code of Virginia.

For more details on recount procedures go to www.sbe.virginia.gov and click on “About Recounts” under Quick Links.