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.
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.