In much the way surgeons need skilled hands and fighter pilots must have great eyesight, there is at least one key requirement for election workers handling the recount in California’s controller race: long attention spans. Starting Friday, they will gather in government offices and sit four to a table, where ballots will be lined up for their review. One worker will read a voter’s decision, another will watch and two more will keep count. They will do this thousands and thousands of times. “It has to be people who can stay focused, because you can understand how boring it can get,” said Debra Porter, Imperial County registrar. And if the workers lose count, they’ll have to backtrack to make sure they get it right. This tedious process is at the heart of what could become the largest recount in California history. It will also showcase a rarely discussed area of state law that observers and participants say fails to provide an equitable safeguard in close elections.
Assemblyman John A. Pérez called for the review after finishing 481 votes behind Betty Yee, a Board of Equalization member, in the June 3 primary. The two Democrats are battling for the chance to face off with Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, in the November general election.
Although recounts are intended to impartially weed out mistakes that could unfairly determine an election’s outcome, in California they are just another arena where political gamesmanship and fundraising can play a key role.
Unlike some other states, California doesn’t require that ballots be inspected in close elections. A candidate or any registered voter may request a review, but he or she must foot the bill, meaning the ability to double-check votes is dependent on the size of candidates’ wallets or the generosity of their campaign donors.