STUDY OF STATEWIDE RECOUNTS PROVIDES INSIGHT ON CONTROLLER RECOUNT “California Recount Law is among the Worst in the Nation,” Says FairVote Legal Analyst

Released July 10, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                 

Contact: Dania Korkor, Email:, Phone: (301) 270-4616

The razor-thin margin of 0.01% in the race for second and a spot on the November ballot in the California controller race has highlighted California’s unique recount law and underscores the case for reform. FairVote’s research, data and analysis on statewide recounts across the country reveal that statewide recounts are exceptionally rare, outcomes reversals post-recounts are rarer and many state recount laws should be altered in multiple ways in order to be more efficient and effective.

“The California recount is a rare statewide contest in which the recount could change the outcome,” said FairVote legal analyst Dania Korkor. “But the way it is being conducted underscores that California should adopt new laws to structure recounts. Right now, its recount law is among the worst in the nation.”

Unlike 18 other states, California does not establish an automatic recount funded by taxpayers no matter how close the margin. Instead, it allows individual voters to initiate recounts by targeting specific counties, choosing the order in which the precincts are to be recounted, and being able to request to recount any of the remaining precincts for up to 24 hours after the initial recount. The voter pays a deposit before each day of the recount and if the voter’s candidate is ultimately declared the winner, the deposits are refunded. If the outcome were to change, other voters associated with the now-losing candidate could select additional jurisdictions for a recount, potentially triggering an expensive, litigious, controversial process of a recount see-saw.

While other states allow partial recounts and/or payment dependent on the outcome, California is unique in using a picking and choosing of precincts method. Such a law can lead to dragged out recounts—Californians voted for controller over a month ago and the recount is ongoing—and potentially unfair outcomes due to “cherry-picked” recounts.

Instead of California’s bizarre precarious system, FairVote proposes that California modernize its recount law. According to FairVote’s research of all statewide recounts occurring from 2000-2009 and updated review of recounts in 2010-2012, full statewide recounts are rarely necessary, as the average change in victory margin is less than 0.03%. But because accuracy in all elections is vital, FairVote recommends that states fund risk-limiting audits that can catch potential fraud or technological error in any race. The number of ballots to review should increase as the victory margin in a race decreases, and an election as close as the California controller race should trigger an automatic government-financed, statewide recount of all ballots. Finally, FairVote also recommends allowing presidential candidates to pay for an accelerated initial recount if the state does not find ways to get the count done quickly.

For more details on FairVote’s research and recommendations, see our report. An updated version assessing recounts from 2000-2013 will be released shortly.


FairVote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and enlivens discourse on how best to remove the structural barriers to a democracy that respects every voice and every vote in every election. For more information, contact FairVote legal analyst Dania Korkor at (301) 270-4616 or by email at