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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Election 2014: Perez seeks recount in California controller's race to lift him out of 3rd place

Assembly Speaker John Perez poses for a picture at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on Sept. 4, 2012.
Assembly Speaker John Perez poses for a picture at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on Sept. 4, 2012. Kitty Felde/KPCC

Former Assembly Speaker John Perez has asked for a recount of ballots cast in 15 California counties, hoping to move himself into second place in the exceptionally close California state controller's race and onto the November general election ballot.

With more than 4 million ballots cast in the primary, Perez landed in third place — 481 votes behind Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, a fellow Democrat. If the recount changes nothing, Yee would face primary the winner, Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, in the November general election.

"Never in California history has the vote difference between two candidates for statewide office been so narrow," Perez said in a statement issued by his campaign. "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."

If the recount goes forward, it would be the first on behalf of a candidate for statewide office in several decades, said Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State. The staff had not researched the state's archives sufficiently to know if it would be the first in California history.

Past recounts in smaller districts have moved a few votes from one candidate's column to another, but they rarely overturn the results of machine counts. California has no provision for automatically recounting results in close elections, and the law puts the payment obligation on the person asking for the recount.

Under state law, the candidate asking for the recount gets to say which counties he wants to count first and which precincts in those counties to start with. Perez submitted a list of 15 counties, topped by Kern, Imperial, San Bernardino and Fresno counties.

Those are places where he and his campaign strategists think the largest number of votes might be gained in a hand-count of ballots. A recount also includes a close examination of ballots that were not counted for some reason. He's hoping enough of those would fall into his column to close the gap with Yee.

Only after an entire county's votes have been recounted, either by hand or machine, can they be applied to change the state totals in the election. If Perez manages to move into second place over Yee after full counties are counted, he can end the recount. At that point, Yee would have the right to ask for other counties to be counted in hopes of regaining the lead.

Yee responded to the recount request in a statement, saying that Perez was "cherry-picking only the 15 counties that he won, and sorting the precincts within the counties to reflect his strongest areas."

Yee suggested it was unfair for Perez to order the counties and precincts by those most favorable to him — however, state law gives him that right, and it's one Yee could exercise if Perez moves ahead in the count.

Los Angeles ranked eighth on the list of counties Perez wanted to recount. One might expect it to be higher on the list, given the large number of votes in the county and that it's Perez's political base. However, L.A.'s votes have already received the same sort of scrutiny they might in a recount.

In the days after the primary election, Perez and Yee sent experts to the L.A. County Registrar's Office to observe the process of deciding which provisional and mail-in votes should be counted. That process involves looking at signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes to be sure they match the signature of the voter that is on file, looking at stray markings on ballots and so on.

Yee's campaign strategist Parke Skelton said that up-close exam of ballots netted Yee four more ballots than Perez.

During a month of ballot counting in the state's 58 counties, Yee and Perez swapped second place repeatedly.

This story has been updated.

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