Howes & Howes, Attorneys at Law

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How Close is Close?

A recount in the Democratic primary for Morristown’s Second Ward City Council seat raises the question of how close is close enough to put the taxpayers and the candidates and the county and local governments through a recount.  How close is close enough?

In the June 2011 primary for a City Council seat in one ward of Morristown, the incumbent earned 196 votes and her challenger 175.  The winner garnered approximately 53 percent of the vote and the challenger approximately 47.  The challenger filed a petition for a recount, and the county held the recount.  Howes & Howes has no interest in the outcome of the race.  We do not represent either candidate, and do not represent the party organizations involved.  Our interest is purely academic.

In the internet age, people in the political world have become accustomed to mountains of public opinion polling data, and as a result, many political activists have formed an opinion based on such data about what constitutes a close race.  In a public opinion poll, a challenger within six points of an incumbent is very encouraging.  Depending on the poll, that would be a close race, almost within the poll’s margin of error.  There is a vast difference between a six point difference in a public opinion poll and a six point difference on election day.  A six point difference on election day is actually quite a margin in many cases.

For instance, in 1992 then-Governor Clinton defeated incumbent President George H.W. Bush by approximately six percentage points in the popular vote.  His victory was considered to be convincing.  It was a very strong message of voter dissatisfaction with the federal government in general and President Bush in particular.

How close is close enough?  The answer to that question will vary from case to case.  Before requesting a recount and/or an election contest, the candidate must consider whether there are legally sufficient reasons, and enough evidence to support them, to proceed.  A feeling that an election was “close” is not good enough.

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