by Jillian, Contributor
A new state bill may make it more difficult for Michigan candidates to pursue recounts after elections. On September 19, 2013, the Michigan House of Representatives passed House Bill 4833 (HB 4833). The bill received bi-partisan support and had a high passage rate of 95-9. The Michigan Senate is now considering the bill.
The bill seeks to amend several sections of current Michigan election law. Specifically, HB 4833 proposes an increased cost for candidate-requested recounts from $10 per precinct to $25 per precinct. That amount can increase to $125 per precinct if the candidate seeking the recount either loses by more than 50 votesor loses by more than 0.5% of the total votes.
Under the current law (MCL 168.881),if the candidate seeking the recount “receives a certificate of election or establishes sufficient fraud or mistake to change the result,” the candidate receives a refund for their payment of $10 per precinct. In the proposed bill, this possible refund remains unchanged. By increasing the cost per precinct, however, the proposed bill increases the financial stakes for candidates pursuing a recount.
Supporters of the proposed bill argue that the increased cost is necessary because the state set the current rate in the 1960s and, thus, the rate is due for an update. The bill’s co-sponsor, State Rep. Kurt Heise, articulated another reason for the bill’s measures. He stated that the recent Detroit mayoral recount “underscore[d] the need for this kind of legislation” to prevent “a waste of taxpayer dollars” in “frivolous recount[s].”
Possible criticisms of HB 4833 include charges that the bill provides an advantage to candidates with more financial backing, and that the increased financial burden may prevent candidates with legitimate concerns from seeking a recount.
Although the proposed bill did not apply to the recent Detroit mayoral primary recount, that recount illustrates the bill’s potential effect. The Detroit recount started after mayoral candidate Tom Barrow alleged voter fraud by winner, and write-on candidate, Mike Duggan in the August 6, 2013 primary election. Barrow’s allegations followed initial efforts by the county and the state to re-examine the ballots. After Duggan’s certification as winner, Barrow sought a recount. Under the current law, Barrow had to pay $10 per Detroit’s 614 precincts, for a total of $6,140. At the conclusion of the recount, Barrow was not eligible for a refund of his $6,140 payment because the recount changed only nine votes and confirmed that Mike Duggan won the primary election. If the new bill applied to this recount, Barrow would have paid $125 per precinct for a total of $76,750 because he lost by more than 50 votes.
Applying the proposed bill to the recent Detroit recount demonstrates that candidates will have to pay substantially more to initiate a recount under HB 4833. However, a question remains as to whether the increased financial burden will actually prevent candidates from seeking recounts. The bill’s supporters argue that the increase is needed because it will help offset taxpayer spending and it will deter candidates from pursing frivolous recounts. The full implications of the proposed bill will not be clear until it becomes law and it is put into practice.