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An Arizona ballot recount? Rare & nearly impossible to trigger

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An Arizona ballot recount? Rare & nearly impossible to trigger

  • A sign at a mock polling place set up at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
    Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror A sign at a mock polling place set up at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

As election officials continue to count ballots in Arizona and allies of President Donald Trump continue to push election fraud conspiracy theories, some have called for a recount — something that almost certainly won't be allowed under Arizona law.

"You can't just say 'I call for a recount,'" Jim Barton, an attorney at the Torres Law Firm who specializes in election law told the Arizona Mirror. "You have to be extraordinarily close to satisfy a recount."

Arizona law sets specific criteria that must be met for election recounts, setting a deliberately high standard that makes it nearly impossible to trigger.

For races with more than 25,000 ballots — like the presidential contest — the candidates have to be separated by just 200 or fewer votes. Among the almost 3.4 million ballots cast this year, President-elect Joe Biden has a lead of more than 14,000 votes in Arizona.

The automatic recount is triggered at even narrower margins in legislative and local races. Races for the legislature must be within 50 votes for a recount to happen. For those running for a position in a city, county or town, it has to be within 10 votes.

Though they're rare, recounts have happened.

Andy Biggs in 2016 won the Republican nomination for Congress after his margin of victory was within the 200-vote threshold and a recount ended up adding votes to his tally.

Martha McSally won her first congressional election after a recount added a handful of votes to her eventual 167-vote victory over U.S. Rep. Ron Barber in 2014. That election — with the first congressional recount in Arizona history — wasn't finalized until December 17.

"There have been recounts, but they're just not very effective," Barton said, adding that most of the time, recounts don't change the number of votes either candidate received.

And those formal recounts aren't a hand-recount of ballots. Instead, the ballots are again fed through the same ballot-counting machines that were used the first time.

That doesn't mean no ballots are counted by hand.

A certain portion of ballots are required by Arizona law to be counted by hand every election to ensure the accuracy of election results and the accuracy of election machines.

The only way a recount could change the outcome of an election is by an election contest.

An election contest, or a contested election, is when someone or a group contests the integrity of the results of an election.

"You could have a recount that then leads to an election contest, but the election contest is not some free-for-all where you just make allegations," Barton said, adding that the contest has to be able to prove that a certain number of votes were wrongly attributed.

Currently, the Trump campaign is suing over ballots they say were disqualified by "overvotes," meaning a tabulation machine identified marks for more than one candidate on a ballot. A court hearing Monday revealed that approximately 180 ballots were disqualified by this issue, not the "thousands" originally claimed by Trump campaign attorneys — and not the roughly 14,000 votes he trails by.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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