At the risk of winning the General John Sedgwick award (General Sedgwick, the highest ranking Union general to die in the Civil War, told his troops at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864, seconds before being felled by a Confederate bullet, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance"), I will make a prediction: despite a flood of media reports anticipating Florida-type recounts in state after state, it's unlikely that any of the key U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races will go to a meaningful recount with one exception: the U.S. Senate race in Alaska. In that race the wildcard is unlikely to be the initial victory margin, but instead disputes over the tens of thousands of write-in votes to be cast for potential winner Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
In a forthcoming FairVote report on recounts, we rigorously identified every statewide general election that took place from 2000 to 2009 and each of those races that went to a recount. We found that:
- A meaningful statewide recount took place once out of every 262 statewide elections in the 10 years of elections from 2000 to 2009: 11 out of 2.884 races. (That would be consistent with just one meaningful recount in U.S. Senate races taking place in this period.)
We of course still need to make sure the results in close elections are right. We still should work for better post-election manual audits. But our findings (provided in more detail below) are important to keep in mind as we vote tomorrow and settle in to watch the returns tomorrow night.. (And a big thanks to our Democracy Fellow Emily Hellman for her hard work updating the report.)
What You Need to Know About Recounts:
An analysis of a decade of statewide elections, 2000-2009
The ability to resolve close elections is an important component of representative democracy. All states have chosen to hold statewide popular vote elections to elect their statewide elected offices, and many states have laws and plans to hold recounts in close elections Following is a summary of our research into every statewide recount that took place over the ten year period between 2000 and 2009:
- Recounts take place rarely: From 2000 to 2009, there were 18 recounts out of 2,884 statewide general elections. Of these recounts, at least seven were not meaningful recounts. (Their original margin was 0.15% or more, which is well beyond the largest margin shift to take place in any of the last decade's 18 recounts.) In sum, a recount occurred on average once every 160 statewide general elections over the last decade, and a meaningful recount (one where the original margin was less than 0.15%) took place only once out of every 262 such elections.