Recounts, Ties, and Other Post-Election Scenarios
October 31, 2019
This post is a revised version of a blog that was originally published in 2015.
For many offices, the outcome will be certain on Election Day night when one candidate will clearly have more votes than his or her opponent. But that is not always the case. Sometimes the results are close, and the apparent “loser” may become the eventual “winner.” Because a mailed ballot can be counted if it is postmarked the day of the election, ballots may not be all counted until days after the election, or longer.
Eventually all the valid ballots will be counted and the winner determined. Per RCW 29A.60.190(1), election results must be certified within 21 days of the election. This year, winning candidates should be known by November 26 (or maybe not).
This blog addresses issues or events that may arise after a general election, such as recounts, ties, election contests, and assumption of office.
If the election results are close, a recount of votes may either be required or requested. Per RCW 29A.64.021(1) a mandatory recount will occur if the number of votes separating the candidates is fewer than 2,000 and less than one-half percent of the total number of votes cast.
If the closeness of the vote does not merit a mandatory recount, an officer of a political party or any person for whom votes were cast may file a written application for a recount within two business days after the county canvassing board has declared the official results of the election (RCW 29A.64.011).
When a manual recount is requested, the requesting party must deposit a fee of $0.25 for each vote cast in the jurisdiction or that portion of a jurisdiction for which the recount is requested. If the request is for a machine recount, the fee is $0.15 per vote cast (RCW 29A.64.030). The results of the recount become the amended abstract of the election and the winning candidate is then known.
What if there is a tie in the votes? It can — and does — happen. When there is a tie the winning candidate is publicly determined by lot, such as by the flip of a coin (RCW 29A.60.221).
Abstract and Certificate of Election
Once the vote count (and recount, if one was conducted) is complete, the county auditor prepares an abstract showing the votes cast for each candidate (RCW 29A.60.230). The auditor will also prepare and issue a ceremonial certificate of election to the winner (RCW 29A.52.360). At this point one would hope that the election process is over; However, it might not be.
Per RCW 29A.68.013, an elector (i.e., a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and resident of the jurisdiction for at least 30 days) may file an election contest with a judge, alleging that there has been an election error. For a local election, the filing of such an affidavit must be made within 10 days of the official vote certification (RCW 29A.68.013).
The affidavit may allege, for example, that there was misconduct by an election officer, that the person “elected” was not eligible for office, that the candidate had been convicted of a felony and has not had his or her civil rights restored, that there was a bribe given to a voter, or that illegal votes were cast (RCW 29A.68.020). A court hearing is then held, witnesses are called, and a decision is rendered by the court, with the result that, depending on the grounds of the contest, either the election is voided or the other candidate is determined to be the winner.
The next step for the successful candidate is to assume office. A person elected becomes “qualified” to assume office when a certificate of election has been issued, any required bond has been filed, and the person has taken an oath of office (RCW 29A.04.133).
If the person elected had been appointed to fill a vacancy, he or she assumes office immediately after becoming qualified. This typically occurs once the votes have been certified within three weeks of the election (RCW 42.12.040 and 42.12.070(6)). Otherwise, the person elected assumes office at the beginning of the following year once he or she becomes qualified.
For more information on elections, see our publication Getting into Office: Being Elected or Appointed into Office in Washington Counties, Cities, Towns, and Special Districts and our Municipal Elections webpage, and to read about recent changes to election law in Washington State, see this blog post.
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