They’ve been counting votes for three weeks in the race for California controller, and Democrat Betty Yee has gone from second place to third place, to fourth place and back to third. As of Tuesday afternoon, she was again clinging to second place, ahead of former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez by a mere 865 votes. Whoever survives gets a spot in the Nov. 4 runoff against Republican Ashley Swearengin. “I get text messages from people who’ve been following this much more closely than I am,” said Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, downplaying any anxiety as officials finish processing more than a million vote-by-mail, provisional and damaged ballots by next Tuesday’s canvassing deadline.
But even then, the vote count could continue well into the summer. The razor-thin margin separating Yee and Pérez – representing just .02 percent of the more than 4 million votes cast in the controller’s contest – could prompt one or both candidates to launch a statewide recount – the first in the modern era – that could cost millions and upend preparations for the Nov. 4 general election.
Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy who has studied statewide recounts around the country, said the California controller’s race is among the closest finishes he has ever seen.
“Most times when people ask for a recount, it’s not going to matter,” Richie said. “This is exactly where a recount matters. It could definitely change the result.”