Statewide recounts are exceedingly infrequent and rarely result in an election's results being overturned

The last statewide recount was 22 years ago
Denver recount
Posted at 5:42 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-29 21:36:23-04

DENVER — A statewide recount will happen over the next week after Tina Peters was able to come up with the funds to pay for it earlier this week.

Peters had requested a recount twice and emailed individual county clerks asking for a hand recount. She was arrested last Thursday and released on bond after being accused of sending an email to the director of elections, which violates a court order not to contact the office.

Peters submitted $255,912 to pay for the recount, which must be concluded by Aug. 4.

At the Denver election headquarters, staff spent Friday carting dozens of boxes of paper ballots out of the vault and into the counting room. Normally, this room is pretty empty during the month of July after a busy primary election.

“The process is simple. We're going to run our election like we always do,” said clerk and recorder Paul López. “The first step is like always, we're going to test our equipment in the beginning test for accuracy. It's called our logic and accuracy test.”

Denver expects to run roughly 127,000 ballots through its scanners for the recount. Paper ballots are retained for 24 months after an election.

Staff and a bipartisan group of election judges are being called back into the office to participate in the recount, which will begin over the weekend and at the start of next week.

Recounts can happen in two ways; if the election is close, a recount is triggered automatically and paid for by the state. If the election is not close, candidates can request a recount but are also expected to pay for it, like in this case.

Recounts paid for by the candidates are exceedingly rare, so are statewide recounts.

“I've never done a recount since I've been clerk and I don't think the last time...—I think the last time we've done a recount was over 20 years ago,” López said.

That recount was for now Governor Jared Polis. In 2000, he ran for the state board of education and won by 90 votes. An automatic recount was triggered and Democrats decided to pay an additional $11,000 for more recounts. The recount confirmed that Polis won the race.

This time around, the tab for the recount was much higher because the recount was requested so close to the deadline. Another difference between now and 22 years ago: Peters lost her election by 88,578 votes. Finding enough counting discrepancies to account for that number of votes would be completely unprecedented in Colorado.

“We are very confident with our accuracy, we're very confident with our results with the security, the election and the outcome of the election,” López said. “All we have to do is convince the losers that they've lost once again, we will do that."

He doesn’t anticipate any major changes in the results.

So if a recount is unlikely to overturn the results of the election what is the point of a recount? Metropolitan State University of Denver political science professor Robert Preuhs says there are a number of reasons for these candidates, like continuing the narrative these campaigns have been pushing of mistrust in the election process.

He anticipates that there will be some small changes in the results but not enough to make any real difference. That could be enough of a reason, though, for candidates that already question the elections to continue distrusting the process.

“What's going on is that you're looking for any sort of discrepancy. So, if there's a couple of 100 votes here, there, see, that's proof that there's a problem with the election system,” Preuhs said. “Again, none of those are true. We're going to see some variation in the outcome between the original primary count and the recount and that's always going to happen.”

Preuhs worries, however, that these recounts will cost more than money by propelling distrust in Colorado elections.

“I think it's actually really dangerous. I mean, what you're doing is really sowing the seeds for mistrust in government,” he said.

Mistrust can also cause a cycle where candidates are accused of being illegitimate and then any policy they work on is mistrusted, which leads to gridlock, which leads to more mistrust.

“Once we have a sense that these aren't legitimate processes, then there's a whole lot of reasons for folks to work outside of the process, to work outside of the election system,” Preuhs said.

Nevertheless, recounts requested by candidates are part of Colorado’s normal election process. Clerks across the state are now gearing up for that recount. López hopes the results will be enough to convince the candidates that the elections are safe and reliable.

One other candidate, Lynda Zamora Wilson, also paid for a recount and will receive one. She ran against state Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen for Senate District 8, which represents Monument, El Paso and Colorado Springs, among other places. Wilson paid $20,819 for her recount.

The recounts need to be completed by Aug. 4 by state law.