Rarely, perhaps never, has the race for second place been so close and so closely watched for a statewide office in California.
And for now, it appears the slight … perhaps final … edge goes to Betty Yee over fellow Democrat John Pérez.
The apparent win (again, for second place) came after elections officials in rural Lake County, the last county in the state to finish its official count, reported the tally early Monday evening. That tally showed Pérez won the county by 1,041 votes — a good showing, but not a wide enough margin to overtake Yee’s previous statewide lead.
The Monday report from Lake County shows that, pending any other data, Yee edged Pérez by a mere 484 votes out of more than 4 million votes cast in the race for state controller.
The winner of the June primary was Republican Ashley Swearengin, the incumbent mayor of Fresno. But her place on the ballot was never in question. What has been the source of enormous statewide interest in the almost four weeks since Election Day was who came in second — the only other candidate, under California’s top-two primary system, whose name will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
“I call upon all Democrats to unite in the effort to hold this vital position,” said Yee, a longtime member of the state Board of Equalization, in a written statement Monday night.
The incumbent, Democrat John Chiang, is stepping aside due to term limits and is one of the two candidates on the fall ballot for the job of state treasurer.
But John Pérez, who recently stepped aside as speaker of the state Assembly, isn’t conceding.
“There are still votes to be counted,” said Pérez’s political consultant, Doug Herman, by email Monday night. “We look forward to the final vote count.”
It’s unclear where the Pérez team believes that votes have been left uncounted. An unofficial report on the website of the Secretary of State shows no county reported outstanding ballots as of last Friday (PDF).
One thing is for certain: the battle for second place in the controller’s race may be the closest contest in California history, and is already the closest in modern times and one of the closest across the nation this election season. But unlike other states, there’s no provision for an automatic recount in California election law. Candidates must pay for any recounting of ballots.
Still, the temptation could be very real for a candidate who comes so close to winning a spot on the fall ballot. As political data consultant Paul Mitchell noted on Twitter Monday night, the 484-vote victory by Betty Yee represents a margin of just one-one hundredth of 1 percent.
John Myers discusses the race with KQED’s Mina Kim: