Frequently Asked Questions - General Election Recount Procedures

General Information
Issued: November 15, 2004

Frequently Asked Questions
General Election Recount Procedures

Q: What are the requirements for a mandatory recount in the state of Washington ?

Washington law authorizes a mandatory machine recount if the election returns are within one half of one percent of all votes cast for the office and 2,000 votes.

In the case of the Governor’s race, the key requirement is the 2,000 votes.

If the final returns from the counties report the Governor’s race to be within 2,000 votes, a mandatory recount will be conducted.

Q: When would the recount occur?

The counties are required to certify election returns to the Secretary of State 15 days after the general election. This year, that date is November 17, 2004 .

Within three business days of the counties certifying returns, state law requires the Secretary of State to issue a directive for a recount if the returns are within the recount range.

Before beginning a recount, the counties are required to provide 2 days advance notice to the candidates and political parties of the time and place of the recount.

Counties are required to begin recounting within 3 business days of the Secretary’s directive.

In the current Governor’s race, the Secretary of State anticipates issuing a recount order on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 .

Q: How long does it take to conduct the recount?

Most counties can recount all ballots in one day. Some counties may take two days. King County will need approximately four days to recount all ballots.

If the recount were ordered on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 , King County would most likely begin recounting on Saturday, November 20, 2004 and all other counties would begin on Monday, November 22, 2004 .

Under this timeframe, all counties should be completed with the recount by Wednesday, November 24, 2004 , the day before Thanksgiving.

The Secretary of State is required to certify the election returns 30 days after the general election. This year that date falls on December 2, 2004 .

Q: What are the requirements for a machine versus hand recount?

A machine recount will occur if the election results for the top two candidates are separated by more than 150 votes and less than 2,000 votes.

A manual recount will occur if the difference between the top two candidates is less than one-quarter of one percent and the two are separated by 150 votes or fewer.

State law authorizes the top two candidates to negotiate an alternative to a manual recount procedure if the race is separated by 150 votes or fewer.

Q: What is a recount?

A recount is the process where the counties simply re-tabulate all the ballots that were counted in the original count.

In the original count, final determinations are made by the county canvassing boards on what votes will be counted.

The recount does not allow a review of decisions by the county canvassing boards of what constitutes a vote.

Thus, the same ballots counted in the original count will simply be re-tabulated.

Q: What is the past history on recounts in Washington ?

The Secretary of State has developed a recent history of recounts in Washington State that is posted at

No statewide recount in Washington has ever changed the results of an election.

In statewide recounts in recent history, although final vote totals have changed, the percentage of the change has been very small and not enough to alter the result of the election.

Q: How many mandatory recounts can occur?

State law only authorizes one mandatory recount. The results of that recount are final unless a candidate or political party seeks a “requested recount”.

Q: What is a requested recount and how does it work?

Any candidate or political party officer can request a recount in any race.

The request may only be made after the Secretary of State certifies the final returns on December 2, 2004 .

To finance the recount, the requesting party must make a deposit with the state in the amount of 15 cents per vote for a machine recount and 25 cents per vote for a manual recount.

If 2.8 million people vote in the general election, the cost of the deposit with the state would be $700,000 for a manual recount. The cost of the deposit for a machine recount would be $420,000.

If the costs of the recount exceed the amount on deposit, the requesting party is responsible for those costs. By the same token, if the cost is less than the deposit, a refund is made of the difference.

If the recount, however, changes the result of the election, the requesting party is entitled to a refund of the deposit and is not responsible for any recount costs.

Q: Is the recount a public process?

The recount is a public process. Each county is required to provide notice to the candidate and political parties and each may have officially designated observers at the recount.

Counties have the responsibility to ensure the recount is conducted in a fair and impartial manner and may control access to recount procedures by members of the public consistent with this responsibility.