Viewpoints: Pérez should pull plug on recount

Nearly all who followed the close race for second place in the state controller primary know that Democrat Betty Yee prevailed after the last ballots in Lake County were tallied in late June. But fellow Democrat John A. Pérez has now called for a time-consuming recount in hopes of overcoming his 481-vote deficit.

That’s a decision we hope he reconsiders.

First, the protracted recount process threatens to drag on for weeks. It covers hundreds of precincts in 15 counties and could take long enough to hamper preparations for the Nov. 4 general election.

Second, a recount threatens to undermine what most Democrats consider a core value of our party – putting the public interest ahead of self-interest. This is not the first time Pérez has put his own goals ahead of party unity. This spring he ignored advice from party elders not to demand a vote seeking endorsement over Yee at the party convention in Los Angeles. Pérez, from Los Angeles and then still the Assembly speaker, pressed ahead with the motion to endorse – and lost, capturing less than 50 percent of the ballots. Calling off the recount now would only work to his advantage. It’s not too late to show party unity and back Yee with all the resources he’s got.

Third, Yee, a state Board of Equalization member, should not be left stuck in proverbial limbo. The grace and restraint she has shown amid the questioning of her winning margin and the call for a recount are admirable. In the race for controller, Republican Ashley Swearengin, Fresno’s mayor, finished first and will be a formidable opponent. A complete Democratic slate with Yee getting full and undivided statewide support needs to proceed now, not whenever a prolonged recount wraps up.

We understand the desire by a candidate who comes up short by a very narrow margin to pursue a recount. But existing California law has no provisions for an automatic recount, and the process it does outline raises questions of fairness over who can foot the bill and how long it might last. One candidate can pay to pursue newly counted ballots in some areas and another candidate might then pay for and pursue newly counted ballots in others. The recount could stretch on for several weeks. Even then it could end in court.

Such is the Pandora’s box that Pérez has opened. The middle of a general election season, with county clerks facing a tight timeline to ready and release the fall ballot, is a particularly bad time for this to happen. The Legislature should not be called into special session to adopt new rules now, with the specific circumstances of this race weighing on their judgment.

Pérez can avoid this collateral damage by canceling the recount. The time for reviewing and reconsidering state policy for very close elections is in a future regular session of the Legislature.

Close elections can always inflame passions, especially when counting of ballots takes weeks. But that count happened. Yee finished as the top Democrat and is ready to make her case to win the general election. We strongly encourage Pérez to do the right thing and call off the recount. We would count this to his benefit if he ever seeks our vote again.

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