LOS ANGELES - Joe Biden was projected as the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, but with razor-thin margins in a few key battleground states, including Georgia, a recount is already underway. But who pays for recounts in a presidential election?
The rules around paying for recounts are not the same across the board. Who puts up the money for a recount typically depends upon whether the recount is automatic or requested, according to BallotPedia.
The length of time a recount can take varies depending on the number of ballots cast, as well as the method used to recount the votes. But federal law mandates that ballots cast in presidential elections must be counted in time for the Electoral College meeting, which happens this year on Dec. 14.
As of October 2020, 20 states had a statutory provision allowing for automatic recounts, while 43 had a statutory provision allowing for requested recounts.
Here is a look at the recount payment rules in some hotly contested battleground states, where margins in the 2020 election were slim:
Automatic recounts are not requested, but occur when election results meet specific criteria, including a close vote margin. In the event of an automatic recount, states or counties usually cover the costs.
In Arizona, a mandatory recount is ordered when the margin between two candidates is within 0.1% of the total number of votes cast. There are no costs to the candidates, and the superior court will determine when the recount will be held.
Michael O'Neil, a public opinion research analyst, said it is nearly impossible to flip Arizona red in the event of a recount in the 2020 election. In any election, he says, there can be an issue with one or two ballots, but typically not the number that can overturn the election."I have never seen a recount that changes more than a couple of hundred votes. People get real excited when you're doing a recount, but not with the kinds of leads we are," O'Neil told FOX 10 Phoenix of the lead Joe Biden had Sunday over Donald Trump in Arizona.
Pennsylvania also has an automatic recount rule that takes effect when the margin for a statewide office or ballot measure is less than or equal to 0.5% of the total vote.
Voters can also request a recount, and there is no specific vote margin required. To request a recount, three voters of an election district must submit a signed petition to the county board that alleges errors in the vote totals.
The requester pays for the recount and is refunded if the recount reveals substantial error or fraud.
Requested recounts rely on a request made by an interested party. When this happens, the party is usually responsible for the costs, unless the recount overturns the election results. If that happens, the state or county will cover the cost.
“In some states, such as Delaware, the state covers the cost of a requested recount regardless of the outcome,” BallotPedia said. “Alaska pays for requested recounts if they change the results by four percent or more in favor of the requestor.”
Unlike some states, Georgia does not automatically initiate a recount. But if a candidate falls within a 0.5% margin, a recount can be requested.
A recount is already underway in the Peach State. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that the state will do a full recount of 2020 presidential election votes by hand.
State law does not specify who pays for the recount. According to the Secretary of State's Office, for recounts authorized under Title 21, the petitioners are not responsible for any of the costs incurred by election officials.
In Wisconsin, a recount can be requested within the first business day following the canvass. The margin required is 1% in a presidential race.
But the cost varies depending on the outcome. For elections where more than 4,000 votes are cast and the margin is less than or equal to 0.25% of the total vote, the state will pay for the recount. If the margin is greater, then the requester pays.
“Costs paid by the requester are refunded if the recount changes the election outcome. In the event that a recount does not change the election outcome, a requester might receive a refund if the amount paid was greater than the actual cost of the recount,” BallotPedia said.