An election recount is a repeat tabulation of votes cast in an election that is used to determine the correctness of an initial count. Recounts will often take place in the event that the initial vote tally during an election is extremely close.
Election recounts will often result in changes in contest tallies. Errors can be found or introduced from human factors, such as transcription errors, or machine errors, such as misreads of paper ballots. Alternately tallies may change because of a reinterpretation of voter intent.
A machine recount is a retabulation of ballots cast during the election. This can be done using an optical scan voting system, punched card system or DRE voting machine. With document-based Ballot Voting Systems, ballots are counted a second time by some form of machine. With Non-document-based Ballot Voting Systems officials will recollect vote data from each voting machine which will be combined by a central tabulation system.
A manual or "hand" recount involves each individual physical representation of voter intent be reviewed for voter intent by one or more individuals.
With DRE voting machines, a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) is examined from each voter. Some DREs that do not generate a VVPAT, images can be printed for each ballot cast and counted individually.[clarification needed]
Recounts can be mandatory or optional. In some jurisdictions, recounts are mandatory in the event the difference between the top two candidates is less than a percentage of votes cast or of a fixed number. Mandatory recounts are paid for by the elections official, or the state. Mandatory recounts can usually be waived by the apparent losing candidate. The winning side will usually encourage the loser to waive the recount in a show of unity and to avoid spending taxpayer money.
Each jurisdiction has different criteria for optional recounts. Some areas permit recounts for any office or measure, while others require that the margin of victory be less than a certain percentage before a recount is allowed. In all instances, optional recounts are paid for by the candidate, their political party, or, in some instances, by any interested voter. The person paying for the recount has the option to stop the recount at any time. If the recount reverses the election, the jurisdiction will then pay for the recount.
In the United Kingdom it is possible for a defeated candidate denied a recount by the Returning Officer, to request one from the court by means of an election petition. There are several cases where a Parliamentary election has been the subject of a court-ordered recount.
Loosely called recounts are actually first counts of various kinds like absentee ballots and provisional ballots. Because they occur after regular ballots are counted and because most elections are not close enough for these other ballots to affect the outcome, when these additional ballots are being tabulated, many media sources incorrectly call them "recounts."