Capitol Alert

Tight races again put spotlight on California recount rules

Observers watch Micah Kagler, seated, second from left, of the Kern County Elections Division, read a ballot cast in the primary race for California controller. The July recount requested by former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez ended just days after it started.
Observers watch Micah Kagler, seated, second from left, of the Kern County Elections Division, read a ballot cast in the primary race for California controller. The July recount requested by former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez ended just days after it started. The Bakersfield Californian

Four months after the photo finish in the California controller primary put a spotlight on the state’s unique recount rules, possible recounts loom in a handful of close legislative and congressional races on last week’s ballot.

In Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District, Rep. Ami Bera has cut the lead of Republican former Rep. Doug Ose to 530 votes, just 0.35 percent of the total counted so far, with thousands of late-arriving mail and provisional ballots still to process. Bera’s campaign has already launched a drive to raise money for a possible recount. The next official vote tally is expected Wednesday.

In the Central Valley’s 16th Congressional District, Republican Johnny Tacherra leads Democratic Rep. Jim Costa by 741 votes, 0.9 percent of the total counted so far. And then there’s the San Fernando Valley’s 39th Assembly District, where educational community representative Patty Lopez leads Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, a fellow Democrat, by just seven votes – 0.02 percent of the total cast.

Any recount would again trigger scrutiny of California recount laws that allow any state voter to request a recount in particular counties or precincts – as long as they pay for it. If the lead changes, another voter can request a recount in areas of their choosing, and so on until there are no more precincts to count.

A national election best-practices group called California’s rules “bizarre” and among “the worst in the nation” in July, saying it gives the advantage to candidates with the most money and taints the outcome. No California lawmaker has defended the process. But a bill to require state-funded recounts in statewide races stalled in August.

Whoever pays for a recount, experts say, there is no guarantee it will change the outcome in a close race, even if it’s targeted at places where a candidate did well. After requesting a recount following his 481-vote third-place finish in the controller’s race – 0.01 percent out of more than 4 million votes cast – Assemblyman John A. Pérez picked up few votes. He called it off two weeks later.

The June primary also featured a district-level recount in Southern California’s 31st Congressional District. Republican Lesli Gooch, who finished 209 votes behind Democrat Pete Aguilar in the June primary, ended the recount after one day. Aguilar won his race against Republican Paul Chabot last week and now is a congressman-elect.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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