Here’s How Election Recounts Work in Maryland

Given delays in processing an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, official results will follow after a full accounting of pending votes. That may take days or even weeks. But, as several county races are very close, an overview of Maryland’s election recount procedures seems relevant.

Maryland law does not provide for automatic recounts, which some states require if the margin between the top two candidates is within specific parameters. Instead, Maryland law allows a losing candidate or voter to request a recount.

What Is a Recount?

A recount is a means of resolving a challenge to the final vote count reported for an election. A recount is limited to votes counted in a single contest at early voting centers, election day precincts, or by absentee or provisional ballot, as specified in a recount petition made to a local board of elections, the State Board of Elections, or under a court order. In addition, a recount may include precincts in more than one county.

Md. Election Law Code Ann. § 12-101 through § 12-107 outlines the rules and procedures.

There are four recount options:

  • Option 1: A manual tabulation of printed reports from early voting, election day, and the absentee and provisional ballot canvasses. Printed reports from precinct tabulators and high-speed scanners (if available) are examined and manually tabulated.
  • Option 2: A re-scan of voted paper ballots involved in the recount using precinct tabulators or a high-speed scanner (if available) to reproduce early voting, precinct or absentee, or provisional ballot canvass totals.
  • Option 3: A manual recount of voted paper ballots involved in the recount.
  • Option 4: A manual recount of ballot images of voted ballots involved in the recount.

Petition for A Recount

A losing candidate in any election may petition for a recount. The petition must be filed within three days after the election results have been certified and may request a recount in all precincts or just some precincts. See, Md. Code Ann. Elec. Law § 12-101.

An opposing candidate may file a counter-petition if the election results are changed or if the original petition only addresses some precincts. The counter-petition is due within two days after the determination of the recount. See, Elec. Law § 12-102.

Petition for A Recount (Ballot Questions)

On a ballot question, a registered voter eligible to vote on the question may file a petition for a recount. In addition, a registered voter may file a counter-petition on that ballot question if the original petition did not specify all precincts or the result is changed. See, Elec. Law § 12-103; 12-104.

Who Is Responsible for the Recount?

The appropriate local board(s) of elections are responsible for conducting recounts. SBE generally monitors the process and supports the local board(s).

Who Pays for A Recount?

The petitioner shall pay the cost of the recount requested. SBE will determine an estimate for the approximate cost of the recount. The petitioner is not liable for the costs of the recount if:

  • The outcome of the election is changed.
  • The petitioner has gained votes equal to 2 percent or more of the total votes cast for the contest.
  • The margin of difference between the two candidates with the most votes is 0.25 percent or less of the votes cast for those two candidates.

When filing the recount petition, the petitioner must file a bond with the petition in an amount determined and set by a judge of the appropriate circuit court. If the recount is in only one county, the bond shall be determined and set by a court judge of that county’s circuit court.

If the recount includes more than one county, a circuit court judge for Anne Arundel County shall determine and set the bond. See, Elec. Law § 12-105.

General Guidelines for Conducting a Recount

  • Recounts are subject to Title 12, Subtitle 1 of the Election Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, Title 33, Subtitle 12 of the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), and State Board instructions in an orderly manner to ensure an accurate recount.
  • The petitioner or court selects the recount option to verify the vote count.
  • The local board of elections is responsible for conducting the recount. Elec. Law § 12-106. Counsel to the local board of elections must be present during the recount. SBE monitors and supports the work of a local board conducting a recount.
  • The decision of the local board to accept or reject any ballot or ballot image may not ordinarily be reexamined. However, in extraordinary cases, a ballot or ballot image initially allowed by the local board may later be disallowed by the local board because of a disqualifying defect that was not before the recount.
  • The recount must be scheduled according to COMAR 33.12.02.09 or under any court order.
  • Notice of the recount is subject to the rules under COMAR 33.12.02.03.
  • The public may be present for the recount. However, candidates, their representatives, observers, and the press are not permitted to speak or otherwise communicate or interfere with the work of the Recount Teams. Any questions regarding the recount shall be directed solely to the Election Director. COMAR 33.12.03.03C.
  • An observer wishing to challenge an action taken during the recount may ask the election director to stop the tally temporarily so that the observer may voice their challenge. COMAR 33.12.07.03.
  • Whenever the room where the recount is taking place is “unoccupied,” the room must be locked (meal breaks, overnight, etc.). COMAR 33.12.03.04.
  • Parties to the recount are informed of the results of the recount while it is in progress. COMAR 33.12.03.05. The petitioner may request, at any time, to stop the recount. The petitioner will only be responsible for the actual costs incurred for the portion of the recount conducted.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

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