The closeness of the election results, coupled with reports of voting machine malfunctions, has led to speculation about a possible vote recount in the Duffy-Heaberg special election. As reported on the Chester County’s Department of Voter Services website, the unofficial election results indicate that Democrat Molly Duffy received 2,266 votes and Republican Mike Heaberg received 2,226 votes.
I have received several notices stating that the Republicans were challenging the election results of the special election and calling for a vote recount so . . . I did some investigating in hopes of better understanding the process. First off, I called the Chester County Department of Voter Services. As of 3:30 PM today, Thursday, there has been no ballot challenge petition received for the special election or any other race in Tredyffrin Township. Further, as was explained to me by a voter service staffer, it would be unlikely that such a petition would be received at this point in the election certification process. Why? Here’s what I learned from a Chester County’s voter service staff member on the certification process.
The voter service ‘computation committee’ will meet for the first time tomorrow (Friday) to begin work on the 2011 Primary Election certification process. This committee will take 2-3 days to sort through all the paperwork from the 226 voting precincts in the county (Tredyffrin Township has 17 voting precincts). After sorting the paperwork, the committee begins with write-ins, absentee votes and reconciliation of ballots from each precinct in the county. To complete the certification process will take the computation committee 4-6 weeks. According to the voter services representative, it would be unlikely that someone would challenge the vote count until the certification process is completed. It would appear that a candidate should wait until the election results are certified and pronounced official. I asked if the reported malfunction voting machines would pose an additional time delay and the response was not likely.
Curious, I asked if there was such a thing as an ‘automatic’ recount of votes if the certification process indicated that a race was very close, say just a few votes separating the candidates. The answer was no; there is no automatic recount; regardless of how close the election results.
Next question, how much does it cost to petition for an election recount? I discovered that Chester County Department of Voter Services does not handle the money side of a ballot challenge and I was referred to the Chester County Prothonotary’s Office. I called the Prothonotary’s Office and spoke to Elizabeth Doan, First Deputy. Deputy Doan explained that the fee schedule for a ballot challenge is $153.80 per precinct. Since the Duffy-Heaberg special election was for an at-large township seat, the petition charge is $153.80 for each of Tredyffrin’s 17 precincts or a total cost of $2,614.60. Additionally, there is a bond fee of $50, which the applicant would need to petition to have returned. It was unclear if the $50 bond fee was per precinct or a one-time fee; Doan suggested that I contact an attorney for clarification.
What did I learn from this exercise? It would not appear to make sense to petition for a ballot challenge until after Chester County Department of Voter Services completes its certification process. The computation committee has to first complete their certifying process before they can do a recount and that would be 4-6 weeks from this point. I was cautioned throughout my conversation with voter service staff that the election result numbers on county website are unofficial until they are certified.
I hope that this clarifies the ballot challenge process and offers a timeline for the election results certification and the cost of a petition process in Chester County.