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Mo. election rules leave slim possiblity for recounts, cut down on ballot confusion

November 13, 2000
By: Katy Scott
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If Al Gore and George W. Bush had in Missouri the kind of race they had in Florida, the nation could be waiting even longer to find the winner.

Unlike in Florida, there a few more steps before a recount can be demanded in the Show Me state.

In Missouri, the rules for a recount are fairly clear. Unlike other states, Missouri does not automatically require a recount if a candidate wins by 1 percent of the vote.

"If the margin of victory is less than 1 percent, then the losing candidate is entitled to a recount if they ask for it," said Jim Grebing, spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

The candidate has about a week to request this recount after the results are certified by election officials.

Grebing said Missouri has one other type of recount as well. If a candidate loses by more than 1 percent but thinks there are irregularities in the election, he or she can take the case to a judge. If a court order is issued, the secretary of state's office will recount the votes by machine.

But candidates aren't the only people who can request recounts in Missouri. If a registered voter believes there have been irregularities in the election or vote counts, he or she can seek a court order for a recount as well.

Currently, four counties in Florida are recounting votes by hand at Democratic requests. Grebing said such hand counts could happen in Missouri, but it would take more than just a request.

"We would want a court order to do a hand recount," he said.

Grebing said this is because a hand recount generally is requested due to the belief that something went wrong with the balloting, not with the machinery. He said the machines used to count votes are extremely accurate.

"It is highly unlikely that the outcome of an election is going to change after a recount," he said. "There's just not a large margin of human error."

Missouri also rarely has large numbers of ballots thrown out due to problems like double-voting. Grebing said voting for two candidates in one race is the most common reason for disqualifying votes but a mass mistake, such as the 20,000 double-marked ballots in Florida, has not occurred in Missouri in his memory.

He chalks that fact up to the state's extensive laws concerning the layout of the ballot as well as the several opportunities Missourians have to examine the ballot before election day. Those opportunities include printing sample ballots in newspapers, which election officials in Florida also did, and hanging sample ballots on the walls in polling places in case votes have questions before voting.

Grebing said most problems that lead to ballots being thrown out occur in high turnout elections, such as the one last week. This is because many people are voting for the first time or for the first time in several years. And he said, even with all of the checks Missouri uses to ensure voters know how to vote, there are almost always some ballots that are tossed out.

"Our election officials do a pretty good job of printing ballots and explaining ballots to voters," he said. "But there's no such thing as perfect voting because people aren't perfect."