Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

8 reasons to care about the recount in the state controller's race

Voters cast their ballots at Canyon Springs School's library on Tuesday evening, June 3 in Santa Clarita during Los Angeles County's primary election.
Voters cast their ballots at Canyon Springs School's library on Tuesday evening, June 3 in Santa Clarita during Los Angeles County's primary election.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The recount in the race for state controller is scheduled to begin Friday, July 11, but even if you have no idea who John Perez or Betty Yee are, and you don't give a fig about who becomes state controller, you're still about to see a fascinating drama unfold.

To recap: John Perez is trying to gain enough votes to overtake Betty Yee for the second spot on the November ballot. And here's why you should care about this recount:

1. It's an exceptionally close election

Former Assembly Speaker John Perez placed third. Only the top two candidates get to be on the November general election ballot. He missed that spot by just 481 votes out of more than 4 million cast. That's a difference of one hundredth of one percent.

Perez hopes to overtake fellow  Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, who placed second. Whoever comes out ahead after the recount would face primary winner Ashley Swearengin, the republican Mayor of Fresno.

2. It will likely determine who keeps track of California's money, even before the general election

California is overwhelmingly Democratic, and whichever Democrat gets the spot on the November ballot will probably win over Republican Swearengin in the November general election. Swearingen got the most votes in the primary because Perez and Yee split the Democratic vote.

The controller pays attention to how California's money is spent, oversees state pension plans and does some watchdog digging into various state programs to make sure they are being efficient. In the pie-in-the-sky department,  if you win the state lottery, the controller cuts your check.

3. The recount is an experiment

The Secretary of State's office says California hasn’t held a multi-county recount in a race for statewide office in modern times,  so nobody knows how well the process will actually work.  

4. It might teach candidates not to take primary elections for granted

Political columnist Dan Walters writes that former Speaker John Perez spent little on the primary election but will pay dearly for the recount. A more robust campaign by Perez could have spared him this drawn-out end to the primary campaign.   Because

5. Only the best-funded candidates can afford a recount

Candidates have to pay for recounts themselves. Perez will pay wildly different prices for recount services in the 15 counties where he is requesting them. The prices range from $400 a day per four-person counting panel in Imperial County to more than $950 per panel in San Mateo County.  The entire recount could cost the Perez campaign millions.  

Donors who have already given the maximum allowable donation cannot dig further into their pockets. The candidate has to raise money from others who have not already given the maximum.

6. It reminds us that every vote counts 

The margin between Yee and Perez is so small that the campaigns are fighting over single votes. They already did some of this combat in Los Angeles in the month after the primary as vote-by-mail and provisional ballots were processed. That’s when lawyers for each side challenged the registrar’s decision not to count some of the 2,500 ballots considered unreadable or otherwise invalid. The L.A. Registrar allowed 54 of those ballots go into the count, and the outcome was a Perez gain of nine votes. Yee gained 13.

7. It might cause the Legislature to pass an automatic recount law  

The National Council of State Legislature says 19 states automatically recount close election results. What’s close? In some of those states only a tie triggers the recount; in others, a percentage difference ranging from 1 percent down to one-tenth of 1 percent forces the recount.

California is one of  39 states that permits the loser of an election or a voter to petition for a recount, but doesn't mandate one. In most of those states, the person asking for the recount has to pay for it. The money is refunded if the election result is reversed.

8. It reminds us that California does not have a uniform balloting system  

Perez picked 15 counties where he thinks he has the best change of changing the outcome. Among those counties, several different balloting systems are used.

People recounting in one county will look on ballots for an ink line connecting the head and tail of an arrow. Another county will look for inked-in bubbles. Another county’s counters will unroll a long roll of paper containing votes that were entered on electronic voting machines.