What Happens If There's a Recount in the County Executive Race?
Here’s what you need to know about the rules for reviewing vote totals in local elections
Absentee ballots inside a cage at the Montgomery County Board of Elections
The vote margin is razor-thin between top contenders in the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive, perhaps small enough that one of the candidates will request a recount.
County Council member Marc Elrich of Takoma Park is only 149 votes ahead of Potomac businessman David Blair in the unofficial total, but about 8,000 ballots have yet to be included in the tally. The local elections board is expected to work on counting the remaining ballots—about 3,600 provisional and 4,000 absentee—starting Thursday and continuing into the weekend.
The results are unofficial until the local board certifies them, which it anticipates doing July 16, according to Marjorie Roher, spokeswoman for the county board. A candidate can request a recount within three days of the vote certification, under state law.
Blair’s campaign declined to remark on the possibility of a recount, and Elrich did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
Here are a few things to know about the recount process:
Candidates must file a petition specifying the type of recount they want. Donna Duncan, assistant deputy administrator of election policy for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said candidates can ask for reports from each voting unit so they can check the totals themselves. Alternatively, they could ask for a manual recount of the scanned ballot images taken by the voting system or a manual recount of the paper ballots themselves. The candidates can also limit the review to certain precincts, she said.
Costs vary based on the race and what the candidate is requesting. Staff time represents the bulk of a recount’s cost, so the manual options are typically the most expensive, Duncan said. For a general sense of the cost, a 2016 manual recount of ballots cast in the 7th Congressional District in Baltimore County would’ve carried an estimated price tag of $24,000. While the ballot review in this case was considered, it didn’t end up panning out, Duncan said. She also cited a $16,000 cost estimate for a discussed recount in a Howard County Council race this year.
The candidate who petitions for the recount doesn’t always have to foot the bill. If the candidate isn’t on the hook, the county elections board covers the majority of the cost for local recounts, according to Duncan. There are three scenarios in which the petitioning candidate isn’t required to pay: If the margin between the candidate and the rival is 0.1 percent or less of total votes cast for the two contenders; if through the recount, the petitioner narrows his or her vote deficit by at least 2 percent of the total votes cast for the contest; or if the recount changes the race outcome.
In the first situation, candidates know in advance that they won’t have to pay, but in all other cases, the circuit court judge sets a bond based on the estimated recount cost. The candidate is still in the clear unless the recount fails to alter the standings or doesn’t give the petitioner the 2 percent boost. Jared DeMarinis, candidacy and campaign finance director for the state elections board, said candidates can tap into their campaign accounts or use personal funds to pay for the recount.
The margin between Elrich and Blair could fall within the 0.1 percent range, meaning a recount would be free for the petitioning candidate. As of Thursday afternoon, Elrich and Blair have a combined total of more than 72,000 votes, so in this case, 0.1 percent works out to about 72 votes. While the two Democrats are currently separated by more than that amount, Elrich saw his lead shrink during the first absentee canvass, and the second round of absentee ballot counting is still to come.
Counter-petitions are also allowed, in some cases. If a recount changes the winner in a race, the losing candidate could file a counter-petition for a second recount, Duncan said.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com.