Has a recount ever changed the winner of a state during a presidential election? mentions that no recount was ever successful in transferring electoral votes to a different candidate. To expand the scope of that question a bit, was there ever a recount that successfully changed the winner of any major election in US history?

The definition of major would be any election with at least 100k eligible voters.

3 Answers 3


There have been two that I've been able to find. In both cases, the initial margin of victory was under 300 votes, and the swing was less than 600 votes, out of a total of approximately 2.5 million votes each.

First is the US Senate race in Minnesota in 2008. On the initial count, Norm Coleman (R) led Al Franken (D) by 215 votes. In the recount, Franken led Coleman by 225 votes, and the certified result later had Franken defeat Coleman by 312 votes.

Second is the Washington Gubernatorial race in 2004. On the initial automated count, Dino Rossi (R) led Christine Gregoire (D) by 261 votes, and the automated recount reduced this lead to 42 votes. A subsequent manual recount resulted in Gregoire winning by 133 votes.

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    Those counts seem to be a reliable random numbers generator. Is there any explanation for the discrepancy? How do we know that yet another recount would not yield another result? Nov 7, 2020 at 10:24
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    @EricDuminil No, and we don't.
    – Joe C
    Nov 7, 2020 at 11:12
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    That's sad. After the recounts, the conclusion shouldn't be "Franken won" or "Coleman won" then, but "Wow, we have no clue what we are doing, and we need a much better process". :-/ Nov 7, 2020 at 11:22
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    @EricDuminil The first count is done in a few hours and ignores provisional ballots. But it's usually good enough to see who won. The recount is slow, careful, checks by-hand what a machine may have messed-up, and counts every vote. In MN the loser spent months trying to find something wrong with it and couldn't. Nov 7, 2020 at 18:03
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    @EricDuminil at least in the UK, there are always some proportion of the ballots which require the counters to make a judgement call about who or what was voted for. Unless each counter handles the exact same ballots in each recount (which would be a dumb idea for obvious reasons) you get different judgement calls every time.
    – alephzero
    Nov 8, 2020 at 0:17

Yes (but it's rare).

Between 2000 and 2019, there were 5,778 statewide elections and 31 statewide recounts, according to FairVote, a voting reform group. Three of those recounts resulted in a reversal of the results. FairVote found that margin shifts are usually smaller in recounts with a high number of votes cast and presidential elections usually have the highest turnout.


You can also Ctrl + F "recount" in this Wikipedia article. Here's a very close one:

The initial vote count had incumbent Republican David Yancey ahead by 13 votes. After a canvas that included provisional ballots, Yancey's lead was cut to 10 votes. Following a recount, Yancey trailed Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds by one vote out of 23,215 cast. After review by a three-judge panel appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court, a disputed ballot that had been excluded as an overvote was instead counted for Yancey and the race was certified as a tie with the candidates to draw lots to determine a winner. The drawing of lots was later postponed after Simonds asked a state court to reconsider the dispute ballot. On January 4, 2018, the names of each candidate was placed inside a film canister, both canisters were placed in a bowl and one canister was drawn at random by State Board of Elections chairman James Alcorn. David Yancey won the draw and the seat, giving Republicans control of the House 51–49. Had Simonds won instead, a 50–50 split would have prompted a power sharing arrangement between the two major parties. In 2019, the two met in a rematch in a redrawn district and Simonds won.


Has a recount ever changed the winner of any major election in US history?

If you consider a state legislature as "major", then yes, sort of.

Virginia State legislature, 2017. (Decided Jan 2018) Existing makeup of the body was (D) 49, (R) 51. Democrat governor who would vote in the event of a tie.

My local district. The initial count was 1 vote in favor of the (D) candidate, Shelly Simonds. A winning Democrat would have changed the composition to (D) 50 and (R) 50, with a (D) governor voting in the event of a tie.

A recount gave one more vote to the (R), David Yancey. Bringing it to a literal tie at 11,607 votes each.

VA Constitution calls for a random drawing in the event of a tie, so that's what they did. Names printed on slips of paper. Each in a film canister. Both canisters in a bowl...pick one out of the bowl. The Republican, David Yancey, won. Preserving the makeup of the legislative body, with Republican control. Had the recount not happened, the Democrat would have won. Giving the Democrats the advantage in the VA State legislature.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/us/virginia-tie.html https://www.reuters.com/article/us-virginia-election/republicans-keep-control-of-virginia-state-house-after-tie-breaker-idUSKBN1ET152

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    While that does count as changing the results I am not sure a 1 vote difference in the initial results and the recounted results counts in this case. A recount and a vote changing isn't that unexpected.
    – Joe W
    Nov 7, 2020 at 15:51

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