An audit is a routine part of the post-election process designed to ensure systems worked as expected. A recount is performed in response to something that may have happened in a specific contest, such as a very close margin, and could be initiated automatically by statute or requested by candidates, voters, election officials, or interested parties. Audits and recounts are important post-election processes, and they serve to build confidence in our election systems.
Recount and audit laws vary by state, but best practices for tabulation audits include routinely examining a random sample of voter-marked paper ballots by hand to check the machine-tabulated results. Although some states recount ballots by hand, in most cases, recounts are conducted by re-scanning the ballots and only hand-examining the ballots that can’t be interpreted by the scanners.
Often, auditing the machine tabulations can give confidence in the election outcome by examining only a fraction of the ballots. A recount usually recounts all ballots, and often allows the interested parties to challenge the interpretation of the voter’s intent.