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Editorial: In aborted recount in state controller’s race, voters win

Assemblyman John A. Pérez deserves a thank-you from Californians for having the good sense to call off a recount Friday of the votes cast for state controller in the June primary. If it had gone on much longer, the spectacle could have had an impact on the outcome of the November election for controller.

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, came in third in a squeaker of a race for controller, trailing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, a Democrat from the Bay Area.

The results were so close that it took weeks of careful counting to complete, during which Yee, Pérez and a third candidate, David Evans, swapped the No. 2 spot several times.

In the end, Yee was pronounced the second-place winner by just 481 votes.

Pérez immediately requested a recount in 15 of California’s 48 counties – heavily Latino counties where he thought he could pick up more votes.

After a week, two counties and $30,000 of his donors’ money, Pérez picked up just 10 votes. The math didn’t look good for him.

Pérez might have plowed through with the recount if the California Democratic Party hadn’t reeled him in by rallying around Yee. If the recount had dragged on much longer, running a campaign against Swearengin could have been made difficult if not impossible for whichever of the two Democrats prevailed. With the announcement Friday, Pérez also endorsed Yee’s campaign.

Actually, Pérez deserves a second note of appreciation: for exploiting state election law to the extent that it spotlighted perplexing recount rules.

Not only do candidates have to request a recount, as there is no automatic trigger, they have to pay for it. In other words, candidates with the most money or the donors with the deepest pockets have a direct role in counting votes. They also can dictate which and how many counties to count. Candidates without big war chests, Evans for example, are at a distinct disadvantage.

Then, if the winner changes, the opposing candidate can pay for recounts in whichever counties he or she chooses. And on and on, to absurd lengths.

The law clearly needs some updating, and South San Francisco Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a Democrat, said he plans to introduce a bill next week that would make the recount process fairer. That’s legislation worth considering.

Thanks to Pérez, there may well be a change to the state’s election law to ensure better, fairer recounts.