Capitol Alert

California automatic recount bill stalls in Senate

Weeks after the tight finish in the June controller’s race highlighted major weaknesess in California’s recount law, legislation to create taxpayer-funded recounts in close contests has bogged down in partisan fighting and is dead for the year.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, blamed the failure of Assembly Bill 2194 on Republican members of the state Senate who, he said, have blocked efforts to waive Senate rules that prohibit committee hearings after Aug. 18.

“The recount initiated in the recent State Controller’s primary race exposed serious flaws in our existing recount system, whereby candidates can cherry-pick which counties they want to recount, assuming they have the funds to pay for it,” Mullin said in a statement Friday. “It’s disappointing to see an opportunity to address a fundamental democratic principle like the election process denied this year for partisan reasons.”

Senate GOP spokesman Peter DeMarco said Mullin “has only himself to blame” for missing the Aug. 18 deadline.

“Last I checked, the primary was in June,” DeMarco said. “This is last-minute. It’s not the way public policy should be enacted.”

Under California’s existing recount rules, a voter can seek a recount in any area as long as they cover the expense, and then another voter can do the same, and so on. The law attracted nationwide criticism after former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez requested hand recounts in all or parts of 15 counties following his narrow third-place finish – 481 votes out of more than 4 million cast – to Board of Equalization member Betty Yee in the June controller’s contest. Pérez abandoned the recount July 18 after hand recounts in two counties.

The Mullin bill, after amendments Aug. 11, called for automatic recounts in all statewide races in which the margin was one-tenth of one percent or less. Changes last week narrowed the bill so its provisions would apply only to this November’s election.

Since then, though, the measure has idled in the Senate Rules Committee. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, a candidate for secretary of state, is a co-author. “It’s above my pay grade,” Padilla said Friday of the waiver rules dispute.