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A recount is a process to precisely determine the vote count between two candidates whose vote margin is extremely close. During a recount, election officials individually review each ballot that was cast on Election Day.

Most Minnesotans place their ballots in optical-scan machines that electronically tally the votes at the end of the night. Optical-scan machines are very accurate, and undergo pre-election testing and periodic audits. However, a small percentage of voters—usually about 1 in every 2,000 or 3,000, or approximately 1,000 out of 2 million voters—mark their ballot in a way that cannot be read by a machine. For example, a voter may circle a candidate name or mark outside of the bubble. A hand recount ensures that these votes are also properly tallied.

Publicly Funded Recounts

  • A publicly funded recount for a federal office, state constitutional office, or judicial office may occur if the difference in the number of votes cast for the apparent winning candidate and any other candidate is less than one-quarter of 1 percent (0.25 percent).
  • A publicly funded recount of the results of an election for a state legislative office may occur if the difference in the number of votes cast for the apparent winning candidate and any other candidate is less than one-half of 1 percent (0.5 percent).
  • A publicly funded recount may also occur in any race where the difference in votes cast is ten votes or less and the total number of votes cast for the office is 400 or fewer.
  • A publicly funded recount will occur if the apparent losing candidate requests one by filing a notice with the appropriate filing officer within 48 hours after the canvassing board meeting.

Discretionary Recounts

  • A discretionary recount of the results of an election for federal office, state constitutional office, legislative office, or judicial office can occur at the candidate’s expense if the difference in the number of votes cast for the apparent winning candidate and any other candidate is greater than the threshold for a publicly funded recount. An apparent losing candidate must submit a request for a discretionary recount along with the funds to cover the cost of the recount within five days of the canvass of a primary election or within seven days of the canvass of a general election.
  • A candidate who requests a discretionary recount may specify up to three precincts to be recounted first; the candidate may waive the remainder of the recount after the specified precincts are recounted.

Recounts of Ballot Questions

Recounts of ballot questions follow a similar process as that described above, except that any recount must be requested through a petition process. Before printing out any of the sample petition forms below or collecting signatures, consult the Minnesota Rules about form of petitions, time limits for collecting signatures, number of signatures required, and what constitutes a valid petition signature.

Recount Process

The recount process is determined and detailed by Minnesota law. Recounts are open to the public. Viewing areas are established for the public to watch the recounting of ballots and attend all county and State Canvassing Board meetings.

  • The first step in a recount process is to assemble all eligible ballots. The ballots are counted precinct by precinct within the county in which they were cast. Accepted absentee ballots are sorted by precinct and counted along with the votes cast in the polling place.
  • A recount official, generally the county auditor, is designated for each county and is in charge of the room in which the recount is occurring.
  • Ballots may only be handled by trained election officials throughout the entire recount process. Candidates, their representatives and the public may view the recount process but may not touch the ballots.
  • Ballots are separated into piles — one for each candidate involved in the recount, and one for all other ballots, including those cast for other candidates, those for which the voter’s intent cannot be determined, and/or those declared ineligible due to markings or other problems. All ballots within a precinct are sorted at the same time and are examined by an election official to determine the voter’s intent, in accordance with Minnesota Statutes 204C.22. Each candidate is allowed to have a representative observe the election officials sorting, and a candidate’s representative may challenge the decision of the election official.
  • If there is an objection to the decision being made by the election official by either one or both of the candidates’ representatives, the ballot in dispute becomes “challenged.” The recount official may decide whether or not the challenge is valid. If it is decided the challenge is valid, and if the challenge is not withdrawn, the ballot is marked as challenged and sent to the appropriate Canvassing Board for review and decision. See below for more information about challenged ballots.
  • Once ballots have been sorted into these piles, they are counted by election officials in stacks of 25 and the precinct’s vote count for each candidate is announced.

Challenged Ballots

During recounting, a candidate’s representative may disagree with the election official’s determination of voter intent on a ballot. These challenged ballots then go to appropriate Canvassing Board for review and decision.

There are essentially two reasons a ballot can be challenged. One reason is that the voter’s intent is unclear. Ballots can also be challenged if the voter has written information on the ballot that could make the ballot identifiable. “Identifying marks” are defined by the law as a voter’s signature, an ID number, or a name written completely outside of the space for a write-in candidate.

Past Recounts

Prior to 2013, federal and state races that were within a certain threshold were "automatic." Since the 2013 law change, similar recounts are "publicly funded." Automatic and publicly funded recounts since 1998 are shown in the document below.

Recounts for Federal and State Offices


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