Napa County voters gave state controller candidate John Perez some of his strongest support of any county in California in the June 3 primary, and now Perez may rely on them as he looks to overcome a razor-thin vote margin that’s left him in third place in the race.
Perez, the former Assembly speaker, is trailing the second-place finisher, Betty Yee, by a scant 481 votes out of the more than 4 million ballots cast in the race statewide. He sent a letter to Secretary of State Debra Bowen Sunday asking for a recount in the 15 counties he performed strongest in compared to Yee, a San Francisco resident who represents Napa County on the state Board of Equalization.
Napa is among those 15 counties because it provided Perez his fourth-highest percentage of the vote of all 58 counties in California, as well as a 2,098 vote edge over Yee. But whether staff members at the Elections Division ever end up pulling out the boxes of ballots from the primary to do a recount remains very much in doubt, Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said Monday.
California elections law allows any citizen to request a recount, provided he or she is willing to pay for it. Since he asked for it, Perez would be on the hook for the estimated $3 million cost of going through the specific precincts he wants recounted in all 15 counties. The Los Angeles Times reported that a hand recount of Los Angeles County, which is one of the 15, could be a $1 million blow to the Perez campaign’s accounts.
Perez ranked the counties in the order he’d like them recounted, starting with Kern and Imperial counties and progressing from there. Napa County is ranked 12th, and Tuteur estimated it could take a month before registrars in the 11 other counties have completed their recounts — if Perez is still pursuing, and paying for, the recount.
“Whether they’ll ever get to us is the big question,” Tuteur said. “It’s an expensive proposition. We’re not going to do anything yet because it could be a month or more before they even get to us.”
In a news release, Perez said the recount was necessary to ensure the integrity of the results, noting that one-one hundredth of a percent separated him from Yee.
“Never in California has the vote difference between two candidates for statewide office been so narrow,” Perez said. “It is therefore of the utmost importance that an additional, carefully conducted review of the ballots be undertaken to ensure that every vote is counted, as intended.”
Both Yee and Perez are Democrats; Republican Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, finished the primary comfortably in first place. The office of controller handles payroll duties for the state’s public employees, and acts as its chief accountant ensuring accurate revenue receipts and expense of taxpayer dollars, among other duties.
Tuteur said it would cost Perez $9,000 to recount all of Napa County’s 28,179 ballots from the primary, but he’s only asked for a recount in 117 of the county’s 167 precincts. But as Perez looks to pick up votes against Yee, Tuteur said, his campaign may want to focus on the approximately 300 ballots that were disqualified from counting because they were received too late, their signatures were challenged, or they were provisional ballots.
An additional 870 ballots required duplication because they were filled out wrong, such as a voter circling a candidate’s name when they needed to draw a line in the arrow next to the name, Tuteur said.
If it proceeds to a manual recount, he said three of his staff would go through and confirm the votes, which were tallied by a machine. A random cross section of ballots is tested for accuracy through a manual count before the final, certified vote is released.
If any discrepancies are discovered in the precincts Perez requested that would change the lead between Yee and Perez, a recount of every precinct in the county is required, Tuteur said. Further complicating matters is the fact that Yee or one of her supporters can also begin requesting recounts in the counties where she performed best.
In examining the results from the controller race, there’s a clear divide between the northern and southern portions of the state, with Perez, who is from Los Angeles, performing best in Southern California counties, while Yee polled best in the north.
That makes Napa County an anomaly because it was one of only three counties in Northern California where Perez finished in first place overall, and also gave him a significant voter margin from Yee, according to analysis of the results from the Secretary of State’s Office. The other two were Lake, which gave Perez a 1,041-vote edge over Yee, and San Mateo, which had Perez 2,171 votes above Yee.
His best counties in separating from Yee were Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern and Imperial. The other counties included in the recount are Fresno, Orange, Ventura, Stanislaus, Tulare, Kings and Merced.
Six counties are in the Central Valley, six in Southern California, two in the Bay Area and one in Northern California. In all, these 15 counties provided Perez with a 96,318 vote margin over Yee, according to the analysis.
Tuteur said this marks the first time since he became registrar of voters in the late 1990s that Napa County has been part of a recount for statewide office. A City Council candidate in American Canyon requested one in 2006 after narrowly missing a spot on one of the two seats up for election, but Tuteur said he dropped the request after going three-quarters of the way through the recount without a single vote changing.