With the old paper or punch ballots, there could be a number of wrongly-counted or disqualified ballots. And even a major election could hang in the balance (with maybe a hanging chad) while recounts went forward.
But with modern day electronic voting, recounts don’t often mean as much, the electronic voting machines’ tabulations were just rerun, usually showing the same totals as the original count.
That was until Utah also started to have so many provisional or absentee ballots cast. Then a close race could hang on provisional and absentee ballots, which sometimes came in after Election Day.
As we saw in the 2012 U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson/Mia Love race, counting provisional and absentee ballots can mean a lot.
Matheson lead by a nice amount on election night (or early morning).
But ultimately he ended up by winning with around only 700 votes, not much in tens of thousands of votes cast.
Tuesday, HB85, which changes the threshold formula for a losing candidate in a close race to get a free recount of the ballots, was debated and passed the House.
Currently, if a candidate loses by the number of voting precincts in the district/statewide office he’s running for, he gets a free recount by the county clerk(s).
If, for example, he loses by 35 votes, but there are only 30 precincts in his district, he doesn’t get a free recount. He can still ask for one. But he has to pay for it.
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, says he was studying the state election code last year and discovered that going by precincts per office sought is not a fair way to handle recounts.
He said, for example, that if you were running in state House District 57 there are only 15 voting precincts. In the 2012 election, if you would have had to lose by 0.124 percent of the vote to get an automatic, or free, recount.
But if you were running in House District 73 last year, with 56 voting precincts, you would have had to lose by 0.42 percent of the vote to get a free recount.
“This is inconsistent and bad policy,” Hall told his House colleagues in debate on HB85.
Hall said his bill is not a result of sour grapes over any 2012 election, including the Matheson/Love race.
His bill says that in all elections, if a candidate lost by 0.25 percent of the votes cast, he or she could get a free recount.
One newspaper article said if HB85 were in effect last year, Love would have had a free recount.
“That’s inaccurate,” Hall said. Love actually lost by 0.31 percent, higher than his bill’s 0.25 percent. So Love wouldn’t have gotten a free recount.
Hall notes that HB85 has no fiscal note, so it wouldn’t cost neither the state nor counties more money in administering elections.
Neither the state GOP nor Democratic political parties object to his bill, Hall said.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, who is running a number election/campaign reform bills this session, said unfortunately Utah citizens see a bill like HB85 and believe there is something “going on behind the scenes” – that there is some dark reason behind the suggested change.
Such is the cynicism among many Utah voters, Powell said.
This is not the case here, he added.
It really is unfair to have a floating standard – based on the number of voting precincts in an office’s geographic area.
“This is a great model” to change to, said Powell, for it makes close election ballot recounts fair across the board.
HB85 passed 72-0 and now goes to the Senate, where the districts are much larger and contain more precincts than House races.