What are chances recount would change Arizona election results?

Nov 18, 2022, 9:36 AM | Updated: 9:37 am
(Maricopa County Elections Department Photo)...
(Maricopa County Elections Department Photo)
(Maricopa County Elections Department Photo)

PHOENIX — The Arizona attorney general and superintendent of public instruction races are tight enough to trigger automatic full recounts, but is there any chance the results will change? 

FairVote, a nonprofit that studies election practices, has studied recounts across the country in an effort to see how they affect results. The group found fewer than 40 recounts for statewide races across the nation over two decades. 

“In the 35 recounts that we studied, the outcome changed in three of them,” Deb Otis, FairVote research director, said Thursday. “Every time that it has happened, the initial margin between the top two candidates was within .06 percentage points.” 

Based on that, there is little chance that Republican Tom Horne’s victory over incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction won’t stand up to a state-mandated recount. Horne led by around 9,000 votes, or four-tenths of a percentage point, with an estimated 10,000 ballots left to be counted statewide as of Friday morning. Hoffman conceded on Thursday.

The attorney general’s race is a different matter. As of Friday morning, Democrat Kris Mayes had a razor-thin lead over Republican Abe Hamadeh of 236 votes, just a sliver of 1 percentage point. 

A law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in May increased the margin threshold to trigger an automatic recount from one-tenth of a percentage point to one-half a percentage point. So while a recount would have happened for attorney general under the previous law, the superintendent of public instruction would have been outside the old threshold. 

Automatic recounts — at any margin — are found only in about half the states in the country, said Otis, who called the practice “an important part of election integrity.” 

But while she applauded Arizona for having a recount statute, she criticized the fact that recounts are now more likely in the state. 

“This half a percentage threshold goes beyond what we consider best practices,” she said. 

Otis says the higher threshold could have negative side effects. 

“It could create the sense that voters can’t tell the difference between a recount that really matters and one that doesn’t,” she explained. “In addition, the recounts are state-funded, so this could potentially be costing the state a lot of money.” 

Otis said when a recount happens, a variety of factors are at play and can affect the final numbers, even if it doesn’t change the result. 

“[Things like] disputed ballots that a machine had a hard time reading, but a human gauging voter intent can determine,” she said.

“The most likely outcome, and what voters should expect, is a small change in the vote total for each candidate.” 

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What are chances recount would change Arizona election results?