Election Recounts in Arizona
What is a recount?
A recount is an extra step—required by Arizona law when the results of an election are very close—to make sure that all legal votes were counted accurately.
Under Arizona law, a recount is automatically required if the margin between two candidates is 0.5 percent or less of the total votes cast. In 2022, for statewide races, that means a difference of roughly 13,000 votes or less. For federal, statewide, and legislative candidates and for statewide ballot measures, the margin is determined by the state tally of election results reported by Arizona counties. That tally, called the canvass, is officially reported on December 5, 2022. Because Arizona determines automatic recounts by law, no campaign or individual can request a separate recount in Arizona.
Once a recount has been triggered, the Secretary of State obtains a court order to initiate the recount. Each county re-runs its ballots through the tabulating machines, programmed to tabulate only the races requiring a recount. After the machine recount, counties perform hand-count audits of a small sample of ballots. Counties then submit their results to the Secretary of State, who provides the results to the court. The court then certifies the official result of the race(s) subject to the recount.
Are any new votes counted?
Only the ballots that were included in the original vote count will be recounted. That includes all legal ballots cast in person on Election Day and all verified absentee and early ballots received by 7pm on Election Day. Only votes for the specific race(s) subject to the recount are counted.
How common are recounts?
Recounts are a normal part of close elections, and their frequency is governed by Arizona law. Earlier this year, the Arizona legislature passed a bill that increased the vote margin for automatic recounts to 0.5 percent. Prior to 2022, automatic recounts were triggered if the margin between the candidates was the lesser of either 0.1 percent of the total votes or a set number of votes between 10 and 200, depending on the size of the electorate. This means that more automatic recounts will now be triggered than under the prior, narrower margin.
Can recounts change the outcome?
Recounts can change the outcome of an election in extremely close contests, but this rarely happens. In 2014, a recount in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District was triggered by the slim margin between Martha McSally and Ron Barber. McSally led by 161 votes going into the recount. Following the recount, she led by 167 votes. This did not change the outcome, which is typical of recounts.
How long will it take?
If a recount is triggered, it will take place after December 5, 2022, when the state announces the totals of votes reported from all Arizona counties. When obtaining the court order to initiate the recount, the Secretary of State provides an estimate of the time it will take to recount the ballots, in order to schedule a court date to present the results. This estimate will be made in consultation with the affected counties.
When the results are reported to the court, the court announces the winner. The recount—and subsequent certification of results—should be completed before January 2, 2023, when state officials are sworn in. Recounts for one race do not delay the certification or issuance of certificates of election for non-recount races.
Who is involved?
Before any recount, Arizona counties certify their election results and report them to the state. The Secretary of State is responsible for certifying the state election results, filing the lawsuit to initiate recounts when required, and overseeing or delegating the testing and programming of electronic voting equipment to be used in recounts.
Recounts are administered at the county level by a local elected Board of Supervisors. Under Arizona law, the Secretary of State can delegate the duty of testing and programming voting equipment to the Board of Supervisors, who, in turn, can delegate this duty to the official in charge of elections.
Each county’s Board of Supervisors delivers the recount results to the Secretary of State, who delivers the results to the court. The court declares the winner in open court. The Secretary of State then issues certificates of election, the final step in making the results official.