Summer is usually a quiet time for local election officials. But not so this year — at least not in a few California counties where votes will soon be recounted in the super-close statewide controller's race. The top finisher is clear: Fresno's Republican mayor, Ashley Swearingen.
But out of 4 million ballots cast, just 481 votes separate No. 2 finisher Betty Yee, of San Francisco, from fellow Democrat and L.A. Assemblyman John Pérez, who came in third. He is now demanding a recount in 15 counties.
San Mateo County’s elections chief, Mark Church, found out last weekend that he wasn't quite done with the June election. “I thought, gee, I guess we're one of the lucky ones,” Church joked.
Church is busy looking for two dozen city employees who might be able to do the recount — a manual assessment of paper ballots that were read by a scanning machine on Election Day.
“All the vote-by-mail ballots, the Election Day electronic ballots, and the Election Day paper ballots. All the ballots in those categories will be counted,” Church said.
Then there's another category — ballots that were not counted because they were damaged or there were questions about the voter's signature or something else. “It's determining what the intent of the voter is by examining how the voter checked the ballot. And in some cases that's not always clear,” Church explained.
And that can lead to legal challenges by one candidate or the other.
By law, the candidate demanding the recount pays for it. For his money, Pérez also gets to pick the order of the recount.
Kern and Imperial counties will review their ballots first, followed by San Bernardino and Fresno. Then, and only then, it's San Mateo's turn.
One other thing: Pérez can call off the recount if it doesn't look like he's picking up ground. And Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, can ask to recount different counties if she's worried about falling behind.
But Kim Alexander, of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, says time is a wasting. The secretary of state starts putting together the voter information guide this month.
“I would hate to see a situation where, you know, there's a last-minute change to the ballot that the counties aren't able to handle, and the secretary of state's not able to get that out to the voters,” Alexander said. “I don't know what would happen in that situation.”
And that's exactly what worries Mark Church in San Mateo.
“This whole process here could end up with another Bush/Gore scenario where we don't know who's going to be on the ballot,” Church said.