Pérez Launching Recount in State Controller’s Race

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (Max Whittaker/Prime)
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (Max Whittaker/Prime)

Get ready for even more political drama in the closest statewide election in modern California history: a recount of votes cast for state controller that could cost as much as $3 million.

Former Assembly speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) has decided to request, and pay for, a recount of votes in as many as 15 California counties — an effort to see whether he came in third on June 3 behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee … or not.

“Never in California history has the vote difference between two candidates for statewide office been so narrow,” said Pérez in a written statement on Sunday afternoon.

“It is therefore of the utmost importance that an additional, carefully conducted review of the ballots be undertaken to ensure that every vote is counted, as intended.”

Pérez missed the second and final spot on the fall ballot by 481 votes in the last tallies reported less than a week ago. If those numbers hold, Yee will face Republican Ashley Swearengin, the incumbent mayor of Fresno, on Nov. 4. Swearengin won more than 1 million votes in the last count of ballots, more than any candidate in the race to be California’s next chief fiscal officer.

Pérez’s decision means that beginning on Monday, local elections officials will take another look at ballots in Kern; Imperial; San Bernardino; Fresno; San Mateo; Orange; Ventura; Los Angeles; Riverside; Stanislaus; Tulare; Napa; Kings; Lake; and Merced counties.

Read the formal recount letter sent to Secretary of State Debra Bowen by John Pérez on Sunday.

Parke Skelton, the top campaign consultant to Betty Yee, called the decision by Pérez one that could drag the process out for months — suggesting Yee may also ask for a second look.

“No recount is going to be fair that doesn’t include more counties,” said Skelton by phone Sunday afternoon.

Unlike other states, there’s no automatic recount provision in California law. Any member of the public, including a candidate, can request a recount within five days of the final canvass of votes, provided he or she pay for it. The decision by Pérez comes right at the final deadline for a request, with Secretary of State Debra Bowen poised to formally certify the state’s June primary results in a matter of days.

The state’s recount provisions are relatively loose, in that the choice of which votes to tally a second time are chosen by the person who’s paying — individual precincts to entire counties are all subject to recount if someone has the money and inclination.

A campaign adviser to Pérez says the 481-vote gap between the two prominent Democrats is within the “statistical margin of error” for the machines that tally paper ballots.

Still, recounts can be a costly process that produce few — if any — additional votes. On June 25, just hours after it began, a GOP congressional candidate in the Inland Empire called off a recount in a squeaker of a race — a recount that produced only a single extra vote in her column, for a cost that exceeded $6,000.

The letter Pérez submitted Sunday afternoon makes clear that the requested recount will go in a specific order, a likely hint that the second tally of votes can stop at any time Pérez wants. It’s beginning in places where his vote tally was decidedly higher than that of Yee. A campaign consultant says the cost of the recount will depend on whether votes are re-examined with machines or by hand. The campaign also seeks to take a second look at some vote-by-mail ballots that were disqualified, to see if any of those should be added to the total.

Of course, all of this also exposes one of the quirks of California election law: Other candidates can then begin a recount, too, if they all of a sudden should find themselves knocked out of contention. No effort has materialized at the state Capitol to resume efforts at a tighter set of rules for recounts.

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  • MisterMoustache

    Let’s examine the candidates qualifications – one is a legitimate financial expert, the other flunked out of college.

    • J_H_M

      Yee is the better candidate, in my opinion. However, many people, Steve Jobs and Billie Gates as among the more well known examples, do perfectly well without a college degree.

  • Fred Taugher

    Many years ago I was a monitor in two election recounts. One was a Congressional election in Los Angeles, the other an Assembly election in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. My recollection is that the results could not be changed unless every district precinct within the county was recounted. This article seems to state that if Perez picks up 481 votes within any of the counties he has selected for a recount he can halt the process and be the presumed winner (unless Yee pays to continue the count in those counties). I believe my recollection and the Elections Code leads to a different conclusion. In other words, if he appears to pick-up 481 votes in one or more of his selected counties he MUST — if he wants the final result to change — continue to recount the ballots in every precinct within the counties that have given him the increase. Further, at any time during the recount (and for 24 hours after its conclusion) Yee can ask, and pay for, a recount in any of the counties not recounted by Perez including those precincts within the counties he did not select.

    • John Myers

      Fred, you raise a good question. My story doesn’t say that Pérez can only go precinct to precinct for the final tally… but rather, that he may choose to begin that way. And I believe that’s exactly what will happen; if the precincts produce votes, then he’ll have to pay for a full county count to get them. I think that’s the basis for the $3 million high estimate the Pérez campaign provided to me today. I’m not a lawyer, but elections code 15632 says:

      “… the results of any recount will be declared null
      and void where there is not recounted each vote cast for the office,
      slates, or measure in any county specified in the request for recount
      filed with the Secretary of State.

      Thanks for the excellent point… –JM

    • http://blogs.kqed.org/capitalnotes John Myers, KQED

      (FYI: I tried to reply, Fred, on Sunday, but had some error on my end. Since I wrote this, the Pérez camp contacted me and agreed… it’s a full county count if you want the votes.)

      Fred, you raise a good question. My story doesn’t say that Pérez can only go precinct to precinct for the final tally… but rather, that he may choose to begin that way. And I believe that’s exactly what will happen; if the precincts produce votes, then he’ll have to pay for a full county count to get them. I think that’s the basis for the $3 million high estimate the Pérez campaign provided to me Sunday.

      I’m not a lawyer, but elections code 15632 says:

      “… the results of any recount will be declared null
      and void where there is not recounted each vote cast for the office,
      slates, or measure in any county specified in the request for recount
      filed with the Secretary of State.

      Thanks for the excellent point… –JM

      • Fred Taugher

        John,
        I’ve always considered you to be a very good reporter (and still do). I raised my point because all of the stories I’ve read by others as well tend to leave the impression that Perez can stop as soon as he squeaks ahead. Thanks,
        Fred

  • Palo Jon

    All the money candidates spend to get elected convinces me that our elected civil servants must be raking it in at somebody’s expense. There IS a return for the millions invested or they would not keep doing it, and seemingly raising the stakes with each election.

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