As 2018’s closely-watched General Election draws near, it may prove useful to read up about how recounts help ensure fair and secure elections for Washington’s candidates and voters.
Nearly a decade ago in this space, we were prompted by a handful of very close election outcomes to summarize the basics of the process, which is also described on our Elections page here. Under state law RCW 29A.64.021, recounts are required in elections in which an apparent winner’s margin of victory is both less than 2,000 votes and less than .5 percent of the total votes cast for both candidates. Specifics of the recount procedures depend on whether the race was statewide.
Although the 2004 gubernatorial recount is still remembered nationally, the dozens of recounts conducted over the last decade-plus in Washington have almost always affirmed the initial outcome — and, increasingly, have been quite close to the initial reported vote counts.
Since 2007, Washington has had a total of 124 mandatory recounts — 29 in primary elections, and 95 in general elections and races for precinct committee officers (a nongovernmental party position elected directly from the primary ballot).
In all but six of those recounts, the second look at the ballots ended with the same winner as the initial results. In other words, 95 percent of recounts upheld the initial results.
Of the six recounts that affected the outcome, three were precinct committee officer races with fewer than 140 votes cast in each.
The three government office elections Washington recounts have swung since 2007 were:
- A Brier council race in 2009, in which a one-vote margin (992-991) was reversed when the trailing candidate picked up three votes.
- The Wapato mayor’s race of 2017, in which the addition of six contested ballots turned a two-vote deficit into a 277-273 lead.
- A Richland school board race in 2015 in which recounts narrowed a 6,178-6,175 margin into a tie (later decided by a coin toss).
This year’s August Primary had two mandatory recounts: the races for Congressional District 2 and Grays Harbor auditor. Neither outcome was altered by the recount. In the congressional race, totals shifted by one or two votes in four of the five counties included in the district; Whatcom County affirmed its initial count precisely. The Grays Harbor recount also affirmed the initial totals.