With a multitude of tight races across New Jersey – congressional, county and local – here’s something to watch: the deadline to file for a recount is November 20.
That’s also the deadline for county election boards to certify the final results of the general election.
Any candidate who finds themselves on the losing end of a close race on November 20 will have just a few hours to find a lawyer – or do it themselves — and file an application for a recount, or a recheck of voting machines used on Election Day.
If a candidate misses the deadline – 11:59:59 — they might be out of luck.
The recount option is the first — though not necessarily only – step to challenging an election.
Candidates can still mount legal challenges to the election, although the recount is typically the first step. The filing deadline for a challenge is December 5.
The 2020 election is unique in New Jersey, since about 97% of all votes were cast using vote-by-mail ballots.
The VBMs are mostly counted through an optical scan system. While machine recounts typically mirror Election Day numbers, scanned mail-in ballots are less reliable.
“I’ve seen some very different numbers over the years when the ballots are run through the machine again,” one election official told the New Jersey Globe. “They rarely come out the same the second or third time. It would be one or two percent off.”
In an election where 97% of votes are cast using paper ballots, that could be an enormous margin of error.
There is no evidence that this is fraud, but the machines are not perfect. Close races might prefer a hand count.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, Orange County, California reported that more than 400 votes went uncounted by the scanners “for no apparent reason” in the 2000 presidential campaign.
Judges have the option of waiving recount fees, something they frequently do in close elections.
But 2020 could be the year of the discount recount, since there are substantially fewer polling locations.
In New Jersey, recounts are typically $25 per election district. But 97% of the votes are being cast and counted at the county Board of Elections, which is theoretically just one district.