Proposed Michigan Law Would Raise Cost of Recounts

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[Image courtesy of Tracy Olson via Creative Commons]

The Michigan House passed a bill (HB4833) last week that would raise the cost to candidates of requesting a recount. The Detroit Free-Press has more:

Asking for a recount of an election could get a whole lot more expensive under a bill passed by the state House of Representatives on Thursday.

Currently, a candidate requesting a recount must pay $10 per precinct to get a recount under way. Under the bill passed Thursday on a 95-9 vote, that amount would increase to $25 per precinct.

And for candidates who lost by more than 50 votes, it would cost them $125 per precinct if they asked for a recount.

The vote comes after the recent controversy and recount in Detroit, but legislators say this issue predates the mess in the Motor City, even as they suggested that the problems there had created some momentum for action:

The bill was drafted long before the election mess in Detroit, where the votes have been counted several times by city, county and state officials. After the state finally certified the election last month, losing mayoral candidate Tom Barrow, who finished fifth in the race, more than 40,000 votes behind winner Mike Duggan, asked for a recount. That recount is still going on.

Under current law, it will cost Barrow $6,140 to recount Detroit’s 614 precincts. In a close race, that amount would increase to $15,350, and in Barrow’s case, because he finished in fifth place more than 40,000 votes behind front-runner Duggan, the price tag would go up to $76,750.

State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, who sponsored the bill, said the rate hadn’t been changed since the 1960s and was due for a bump.

“What happened in Detroit does underscore the need for this kind of legislation,” Heise said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and an abuse of the system for people who clearly lost an election to come back later and expect the taxpayers to do a frivolous recount.”

Recounts are always a difficult subject for everyone concerned, given the need to balance the desire to ensure that a correct result was reached with an interest in finality and an eye on the budget bottom line. Some states have addressed worries about unnecessary recounts by tightening the margin for so-called “automatic” recounts where the jurisdiction essentially uses its own funds to do the recount. This approach – raising the cost of anything else outside of that margin – is a variation on that theme.

Whether or not the increased cost is enough to dissuade candidates from asking for a recount in a close race (or what they perceive to be a close race) remains to be seen. If nothing else, legislators’ interest in election officials’ time and money is welcome. It will be interesting to see, if the bill is enacted, if it actually discourages recounts or just ensures that election offices are better compensated for their trouble.

HB4833 now moves to the State Senate. Stay tuned …

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