Pérez seeks recount in California controller’s race

Former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez filed paperwork Sunday seeking a partial recount of last month’s close vote for controller, making an expensive, contentious and potentially time-consuming bid to advance to the November runoff.

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, trails Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, also a Democrat, by just 481 votes for second place in the controller’s contest – one-hundredth of a percent of the more than 4 million ballots cast in the race. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, finished first in the balloting. The top two finishers will meet in the general election.

Sunday’s filing is the largest recount request in California’s modern era. A pair of recount filings affecting ballot propositions followed the November 2012 election but involved far fewer counties.

In a statement, Pérez said last month’s tight finish means it is of “the utmost importance that an additional, carefully conducted review of the ballots be undertaken to ensure that every vote is counted, as intended.”

“As the former chair of the California Voting Modernization Board, I know first-hand how difficult it is to have an error-free counting of the votes. Like all who have waited since Election Day, I seek a final determination as quickly as possible,” he said.

Pérez topped Yee in all 15 counties where he is seeking the recount, from mammoth Los Angeles County to Lake County, where only about 14,000 votes were cast in the controller’s race. Not all areas of the affected counties are covered by the recount request. In Los Angeles County, for example, the campaign’s filing seeks recounts in about 700 out of more than 4,800 precincts, where a review of final election results shows Pérez outpolled Yee by roughly 25 percentage points. His countywide margin over Yee was 4.8 percentage points.

In a statement, Yee accused Pérez of “cherry-picking” precincts where he did well.

“My opponent in the June primary has stated that he is calling for a recount because he ‘wants to ensure that every vote is counted,’” Yee said. “But if he really wants to make sure every vote counts, he should be counting every vote.

“Cherry-picking only the 15 counties that he won, and sorting the precincts within the counties to reflect his strongest areas, indicates that he has no interest in a fair and impartial recount,” she said.

Unlike some states, California does not have automatic recounts in close races. Any voter can request a recount in any county within five days of the completion of the official canvass, with the deadline in this race on Monday. Those requesting the recount have to front the money to pay for each day’s work in each county, but they get the money back if the recount changes the final outcome.

Because recounts are so rare, even in local races, experts say there is no tried-and-true strategy. They also are expensive. A complete statewide hand recount could cost as much as $3 million.

The Pérez campaign starts with a hefty financial advantage. He had $1.8 million in his controller’s account as of May 17, and $1.2 million more in other campaign accounts. Yee had $116,000 for her controller committee.

There is no time limit for a recount, and there were no estimates Sunday of how long it would take county election officials to recount ballots in the thousands of precincts covered by the Pérez campaign’s filing. But a lengthy process could complicate preparations for the Nov. 4 election. The application period for overseas ballots, for instance, begins Sept. 5.

Dean Logan, Los Angeles County’s registrar-recorder/county clerk, said Sunday’s filing is not surprising but that “recounting 700 precincts in Los Angeles County is a major undertaking.”

“We will spend the next couple of days working out logistics and determining the staffing and time resources needed to comply with the request,” Logan said in an email.

Yee or a supporter now has 24 hours to launch a second recount to keep pace with any recount gains made by Pérez. Sunday, Yee consultant Parke Skelton said the campaign has not made a decision on seeking a recount of its own. Yee did best last month in the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of Northern California.

“They’ll be challenging in their best areas. It would be in our best interests … to challenge in our best areas,” Skelton said last month on the possibility of a recount.

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