Update: 6:15 p.m.: Betty Yee has overtaken John A. Pérez, again, as of the afternoon update on the vote count. She is currently 2,820 votes ahead.
It may not have the intrigue of hanging chads or mysteriously appearing ballots, but it’s the only real statewide drama left from the June 3 primary election: Who won the second and final spot on the fall ballot in the race for state controller?
At various times since the polls closed on Election Night, the answer has been one of three candidates: Republican newcomer David Evans, Democrat and state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, or Democrat and former Assembly speaker John Pérez.
But the race is now really down to Yee and Pérez, the two Democrats whose campaign to be California’s next chief fiscal officer represented a bitter split among a number of party faithful.
This one is a political nail-biter.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, official records show Yee ahead of Pérez — after he was ahead for several days — and after she was ahead before that. Yee’s lead stood at 3,008 votes, out of more than 3.7 million votes cast.
In first place, as she’s been since Election Night, is Republican Ashley Swearengin, the incumbent mayor of Fresno. Swearengin, who has about 25 percent of the vote, is all but assured of one of the two spots on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. Her GOP challenger Evans — an accountant and political unknown who looked to be in second place as the sun rose on June 4 — now appears to be out of the running, as the two Democrats have amassed thousands of votes in the late counting of ballots.
With Pérez and Yee swapping turns in second place these past few days, the theories as to who ultimately comes out on top are numerous. Some number crunchers suggest that the counties left with a significant number of uncounted ballots lean the final result toward a win for Yee. But Pérez has been ahead of late and has been boosted by the vote tallying in his home territory, Los Angeles — California’s most vote-rich county.
Most of the roughly 300,000 votes left to count are absentee ballots turned in to elections officials late. But as many as 33,000 uncounted ballots are ones either damaged or marked in a way that machines can’t read them. There’s no way to know yet how many of those could factor into a race this close.
There’s another thing to consider: California has no provision in its election law for an automatic recount, some kind of threshold by which a tight race is guaranteed to get a second look. State law allows anyone to ask for a recount as soon as early July, but the request also requires a private citizen or campaign to pay for that recount.
And it wouldn’t be cheap; the last time anyone paid for a re-examination of votes was in the summer of 2012, when backers of the Proposition 29 tobacco tax initiative requested a recount in selected parts of Los Angeles. The estimated cost at that point: about $5,700 a day.
Even with his fundraising lead in the race, it’s doubtful Pérez would have enough cash on hand to mount much of a challenge; Yee would probably have no way to mount such a challenge.
Which is why the daily, even hourly vote tally is being so closely watched — easily the closest statewide race for office in a long, long time.
3:35 p.m. UPDATE: This story has been updated with new numbers showing Betty Yee overtaking John Pérez’s narrow lead. We’ll update it as often as possible over the coming hours.