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Missouri bill would tighten threshold for election recounts

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | 7:10 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri lawmaker has proposed legislation requiring that elections be closer to tied before the loser can request a recount.

Currently candidates for public office in the state can request a recount if they lose by less than 1 percent of the total vote. The proposed legislation would lower that to one-half of 1 percent.

Sponsoring Rep. Tony Dugger said Tuesday that recounts generally have little effect on election outcomes, and he is concerned about how much they cost local officials. Dugger, the House Elections Committee chairman and a former county clerk, said that local election authorities suggested the legislation.

"There's no change normally after you have a recount, and so, it's all associated with the cost of doing the recount," said Dugger, R-Hartville.

It was unclear how much money could be saved by lowering the threshold for requesting recounts.

Missouri's most recent recount came in November. Democratic state Senate candidate Barbara Fraser requested a recount after initial results showed her losing by 133 votes of the more than 61,000 votes cast — or by less than 0.3 percentage point. The recount confirmed Republican John Lamping's victory in the St. Louis-area district, but his margin was narrowed to 126 votes.

Since 2005, there have been 17 Missouri elections eligible for a recount and 14 in which the losing candidate actually requested one. In elections where a recount was conducted, three would not have been done under the legislation. Those races were a 2006 primary for a Kansas City state House seat, a 2008 primary for a St. Louis state Senate seat and a 2008 general election for a Warrensburg state House seat.

In 2008, two circuit judge contests were eligible for recounts but would not have been under the proposed legislation. The losing candidates, however, did not request recounts. Barack Obama, who won the presidency but lost Missouri by 0.13 percentage point, also was eligible for a recount but did not request it.

The secretary of state's office said Tuesday that in recent years, the biggest change from an election recount has been 49 votes. In the 2008 Democratic attorney general primary, Chris Koster's lead over rival Margaret Donnelly increased after she requested the recount. Koster won the election by 829 votes out of the 670,100 cast in the August contest.

Besides recounts, Dugger's legislation also would require a 50-foot buffer at polling places from campaign signs, exit polling and other electioneering. Currently, the buffer is 25 feet.


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