A Recount Is Coming. Are You Prepared?

If you’re reading this post on Wednesday, November 3 because the votes are in and you’re headed for a recount, stop.  It’s too late.  You may still win the recount, or you may lose, but either way you will not be in control of your electoral destiny.  You were unprepared, so just hire a lawyer and hang on for a wild, blindfolded ride through a political haunted house of surprises, apparitions, tricks and dead ends.

Recounts are taking place with more frequency in the current closely-divided electorate, and we learn more with each successive recount.  One thing we know for certain — one common denominator to all recounts — is that you must prepare before the Election for what may happen after it.  Indeed, pre-election preparation is your only opportunity to get ready for post-election process.  When the sun rises Wednesday morning and the post-election process begins, it is too big and moves too fast for you to catch up to it.  This is especially true in congressional and statewide recounts.

Fortunately, there are seven key things you can do in the two weeks before an election to prepare for a recount, and to put your campaign in the best possible position to win.  Gleaned from my experience litigating a statewide and a congressional district recount, and from consulting and observing numerous others, they are:

1.  TWO WEEKS OUT:  Recruit volunteers to represent you at the following events:

  • Election Night:  One volunteer per precinct to observe vote counting and tabulation.  Don’t forget Central Absentee Precincts.  Volunteers should bring handheld calculators, be in place by 6 p.m. and prepared to stay as long as necessary.
  • Wednesday Morning:  One volunteer per locality to observe the provisional vote proceeding and post-election canvass.  For these events, you want your very brightest, sharpest, most professional volunteers — lawyers, accountants, businesspersons, etc.  Be sure to recruit back-ups, as one or more of your chosen volunteers likely will have something happen that will prevent them from covering for you.
  • End of First Week – Beginning of Second Week:  One volunteer per city or county standing by to obtain copies of election records, as permitted by law, once the provisional vote and canvass proceedings are concluded.

2.  TWO WEEKS OUT:  Identify and retain a lawyer.  Self-serving, I know, but it doesn’t have to be me.  You have to get someone on board, however, who knows or has time to learn your state recount law — so he or she doesn’t spend the critical first 12-24 hours of post-election process feeling his or her way around the law and the procedures.  Also, and this is CRITICAL:  You want your lawyer to develop a set of instructions and reporting forms so that your volunteers in the field will know exactly what to do, what not to do, what information the lawyer needs them to collect, and where and how to find it.

3.  ONE WEEK OUT:  Contact the Local Electoral Board to identify the starting time and location of each locality’s provisional vote and canvass proceeding.  Confirm the answers in writing and request notice of any changes.

4.  ONE WEEK OUT:  Make sure that your volunteers have the credentials and identification necessary to admit them to the vote count, provisional vote and canvass proceedings.

5.  ONE WEEK OUT:  Gather precinct-level returns from several relevant prior elections.  These are for your lawyer’s use in analyzing returns from your election.  (More on this below.)

6.  ELECTION NIGHT:  Your in-precinct volunteers should:

  • Make sure that tapes/print-outs are pulled from all machines, and make sure that all paper ballots are counted.  (Only exception:  No provisional ballots are counted on Election Night, unless state law provides otherwise.)  There is nothing worse than finding out Wednesday morning that a voting machine was forgotten, left on overnight, and has a couple dozen votes on it.  Or that a box of paper ballots was left sitting on table.
  • Observe the tabulation of the vote.  Double-check the election officials’ tallies using handheld calculators, and watch for mathematical and other errors (including transposed digits (e.g., 597 –> 579), transposed vote totals (e.g., Candidate A’s votes are recorded for Candidate B and vice-versa), etc.).  Politely point out errors, and make note of any that are not corrected.
  • Make sure that all voting equipment, ballots and other election materials are secured prior to leaving for the night.
  • Call in to campaign headquarters with a report.

In the meantime, as results are coming in, your lawyer should be scrutinizing precinct-by-precinct incident reports, if available, and comparing the Election Night precinct-level returns with those from past elections, to identify potential irregularities or anomalies.

7.  WEDNESDAY MORNING:  If there is no concession on Election Night, your provisional vote and canvass volunteers should AUTOMATICALLY do the following:

  • Wake-up early and check their e-mail first thing in the morning for instructions and reporting forms from the campaign’s lawyers.
  • Plan to dial in to a conference call to discuss legal and political strategy.
  • Deploy to the site of the post-election proceedings.

If your campaign can implement those basic steps, you will be very well-positioned to be in control of the recount.  The flip side is that if you have holes in your coverage, you’ll invariably end up missing information, scrambling to catch up, and starting the recount off in a reactive mode — costing you precious time and opportunities.