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How do recounts work in Utah?

Michael Fife, Salt Lake County election coordinator, looks for valid postmarks on ballots at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The majority of ballots in this tray were postmarked too late. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Many state election results will be certified Tuesday, but what happens if a race is still really tight? Here are the rules around recounts in Utah.

Who can request a recount?

Per Utah state law, there are no automatic recounts.

“A candidate who loses an election can request a recount if the margin between the winning and losing candidate is .25% or one-quarter of one percent.” Utah’s Director of Elections Justin Lee tells KSL.

Unless the race is small enough that it has less than 400 total votes. Then, a difference of one vote would be in recount territory. For everyone else, the same rules apply whether you’re in a race for Congress or a school board seat.

“That’s why we have that percentage there it’s .25% for any race, for any candidate. If they’re within that margin they can request that recount.” Lee said.


How long do candidates have to request?

Candidates have seven days to request a recount from the day county clerks are finished canvassing ballots, which for most races is two weeks after Election Day, or Tuesday, November 17th. That deadline applies to races that are only in one county, like a state House or Senate seat. For multi-county, statewide, or congressional races, the deadline would be seven days from November 23rd since that’s when the state does their canvass.  The state has jurisdiction over any race that spans more than one county, like the race for Congress or Governor.

How does the actual recounting work?

Lee says the process is more or less the same as when they counted the first time.

“All of the ballots are run through the machines again.” Utah doesn’t do hand recounts.

“There’s not a hand recount done in place of the normal counting through the machines,” Lee said. “Really it’s just going through the same process one more time to make sure that nothing was missed or nothing changes.”

Who oversees a recount?

County clerks are in charge of overseeing the recount. Poll watchers allowed to be there to watch the counting process. There are also audits done of both the original and the recount.

“So there is a double check there,” Lee said. “But it’s not a vastly different process than the original count.”

Lee says Utah hasn’t seen a big multi-county or Congressional recount in recent memory.

“Where we do see some [races] maybe change is at a municipal level because you have a lot fewer people voting in those races, so there may be a change there. But in large scale races we don’t usually see any difference at all.”

What if the recount is different than the original?

Lee says the answer to this is rather simple.

“Whatever comes back from the recount is official.”

Who pays for a recount?

 It’s not the candidates who are on the hook for the cost of a recount, it’s the taxpayers.  

“It’s paid for by the government,” Lee said.

But Lee says Utah’s tight margin for recounts makes them rare.

“We haven’t really seen a real negative impact to elections administration or to additional costs from recounts.”



KSL’s continuing coverage on the 2020 Election.