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Parties Strategize on Recounts

From House and Senate contests on up to the battle for the White House, both Republican and Democratic party organizations say they are becoming intimately acquainted with each state’s recount laws — and putting together plans for quickly assembling legal teams that can make their arguments on a case-by-case basis.

While lawyers working on Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign have already begun exploring their legal options for funding any potential recount efforts, Congressional campaign committees are also looking at how they would handle widely scattered recount cases.

“Based on some of the closeness we saw in the last two cycles, we’re working with the campaigns and the Republican National Committee to make sure everyone’s on the same page and prepared to deal with anything that may arise,” said Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Cara Morris, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the DSCC is preparing to have an “aggressive” poll-monitoring program in the states. The DSCC will serve as a command center, she said, manning telephone hot lines to which individuals can report problems with voting, such as incidents of voter intimidation or equipment failures.

Both parties are putting together teams of attorneys who can be dispatched in case results get close.

“We’re definitely going to be prepared in that way should a recount arise,” remarked Stacy Kerr, press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We’re not going to allow elections to be stolen, and frankly we’ve learned from the past that Republicans will do anything to win, including stealing elections.”

Given that every state has its own set of election laws and recount procedures — and given the election debacle of 2000 — neither party is prepared to take any chances.

In the 2002 midterm elections, the race between former Colorado GOP Chairman Bob Beauprez and ex-state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) was decided by just 121 votes and only after a recount that lasted more than a month.

Meanwhile, preparing for the “possibility of one or more recounts arising from the 2004 presidential race,” the general counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign last week asked the Federal Election Commission how the campaign would be expected to pay for such expenses.

“In order to avoid any question of whether its recount funds comply with [the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002], the Kerry-Edwards Campaign seeks the Commission’s opinion as to how it may permissibly pay for recount expenses,” Marc Elias, an attorney with the firm Perkins Coie, asked in a Sept. 7 letter to the agency’s six commissioners.

Specifically, the Kerry campaign wants to know if it might pay any potential recount expenses by tapping into its General Election Legal and Accounting Compliance Fund — a fund that contains monies that are typically used to help presidential campaigns comply with federal campaign finance laws.

That question may turn on how the soft-money ban put in place by BCRA would affect efforts to pay for recounts. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush were not allowed to accept corporate or union money to pay for their recount expenses, but they were allowed to raise unlimited funds from wealthy individuals.

Under the soft-money ban, federal candidates and the national party committees are subject to strict limits and prohibitions, which allow no money from corporations or labor unions. Individual contributions to candidates are capped at $2,000 and the national party committees are limited to $25,000 individual contributions.

Republicans seemed less concerned with the financial costs of a recount.

“We usually deal with the funding question after” the fact, said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We’re not always the ones necessarily picking up the bill. It winds up being on a case-by-case basis depending on the district.”