How Pennsylvania Recount Laws Work in Lamb vs. Saccone


rick saccone, conor lamb


Rick Saccone (l) and Conor Lamb.

The Pennsylvania special election in the 18th Congressional District is going down to the wire with Democrat Conor Lamb leading Republican Rick Saccone by .02% with 98 percent of the votes counted.

That has various analysts predicting a “photo finish” and even talk of a recount. However, what are the recount rules in Pennsylvania elections? It’s far more complicated to force a recount in Pennsylvania than it is in other states. That’s something Green Party candidate Jill Stein found out in the 2016 presidential election when she tried to contest the results in several states.

There is no automatic recount on the congressional level. State statutes read on the automatic recount question, “A candidate for a public office which appears on the ballot in every election district in this Commonwealth was defeated by one-half of a percent or less of the votes cast for the office. This subclause includes a candidate for retention to a Statewide judicial office.” A candidate would have to petition and get three individuals in each precinct to seek one, according to CNN. CNN is also reporting that there are almost 7,000 absentee ballots in the race.

According to CNN’s David Wright, “Sec. of State spokesperson Wanda Murren tells CNN that b/c this is a district race & not statewide, there is no mandatory recount here. Petitions are allowed, which require 3 voters in each precinct; have 5 days to file after the county completes its computation.”

“Recounts are not automatically triggered in congressional races in Pennsylvania,” CNN reported. According to Ballotpedia, in Pennsylvania, “a recount of ballots is required in an election district if three qualified electors in that district file a petition alleging that fraud or error occurred in the tabulation of votes or the marking of election ballots. Petitioners are not required to “specify in their petition the particular act of fraud or error which they believe to have been committed nor to offer evidence to substantiate the allegations of their petition.” The petition must be accompanied by a $50 deposit, which will be retained by election officials if it is determined that fraud or error did not occur. This deposit is due to each county in which a recount is requested.”

The special election is being closely watched, even though the district’s boundaries are being redrawn soon, because President Donald Trump won it by 20 percent and it’s considered reliable Republican turf. Despite those factors and outside spending heavily favoring Saccone, Conor Lamb, the Democrat, brought it down to the wire. Some say that bodes poorly for the GOP in the midterms, and argue it is a referendum on Trump, who campaigned heavily for Saccone in the final days of the race.

The race was to replace a GOP incumbent who stepped down in the midst of a sex scandal. Democrats chose a pro gun rights moderate in Lamb who says he is personally opposed to abortion due to his Catholic beliefs. He’s a 33-year-old military veteran and political newcomer, but he hails from a Democratic family that is well-known in Pennsylvania politics. Saccone, 60, is a former counter-intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force in South Carolina, and he is also a state legislator.

Learn more about the Pennsylvania election results here: