With just 481 votes keeping him from the November runoff for state controller, former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez filed a request this week to begin machine and hand recounts of ballots in 15 counties, making this the largest recount request in California’s modern history. Perez’s petition for a recount is understandable, even necessary, given the close margin in the race — the deciding votes were 0.01% of the ballots cast. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, finished first in the June 3 primary. Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, a Democrat like Pérez, came in second to advance to the general election.
State law allows any voter to request a recount in any county, as long as he or she pays for it. So Pérez is well within his rights to seek a new tally, including a review of votes not counted, such as unopened, rejected vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots. But Pérez’s fair use of the recount law has highlighted some potential problems, primarily that it favors deep-pocketed candidates who are able to cherry-pick counties they want recounted.
The law introduces political calculations into the process by allowing a voter — usually a candidate or a ballot measure proponent — to choose which counties are included and the order of the recounts.