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Missouri's recount process is long, complicated — and rarely pays off

Stock photo of paper ballot

Tuesday’s results in Missouri’s presidential primary are so close that a few have raised the issue of potential recounts. But state law and party rules make clear that the recount process is complicated, and little may be gained.

Under Missouri law, no recount can be requested until four weeks after the election, when local election authorities and the Secretary of State’s office have completed their work certifying the results. That kicks the starting point for a recount to at least April 15. 

Both state parties will have begun their delegate selection process before then.  The Missouri Democrats’ selection sessions get underway April 7, with the GOP starting on April 9.  The process will go on for weeks.

Because Missouri’s Republican and Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally, the close votes already mean that Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will likely split the committed delegates almost in half.  And that’s the split regardless of which one technically won the primary.

That’s what happened in 2008, when Clinton narrowly lost the Missouri primary to Barack Obama. Each ended up getting 50 percent of the committed delegates. (Missouri’s uncommitted “superdelegates’’ can back whoever they choose. This year, all have gone with Clinton.)

On the GOP side, state Republican Party chairman John Hancock said it’s likely that a recount would affect no more than 10 of that party’s 52 delegates.  The preliminary breakdown, based on a complicated formula,  awards 37 to Donald Trump and 15 to Ted Cruz.

And between now and April 15, at least nine other states will hold primaries or caucuses. Which means that the winners and losers of Missouri's presidential primaries likely have other matters — and delegates — to claim their attention.

Another cautionary fact: There's only been a handful of recounts in Missouri statewide contests in recent decades — and none has seen a change in outcome.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.