All the votes have been counted, but the race for state controller isn’t final – yet.

With the final votes from Lake County tallied, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee has taken second place in the race for state controller, besting fellow Democrat Asm. John A. Perez by just 484 votes.

“I want to thank the voters of California for their trust and support,” Yee said in a written statement declaring victory with no votes left to count. “I look forward to bringing my extensive finance experience into the office of controller.”

But, the Bay Area’s representative on the state tax board isn’t guaranteed to face Republican Ashley Swearengin in the November run-off.

That’s because, with one hundredth of one percent separating Yee and Perez, the question remains: Will the former Speaker of the Assembly seek a recount in the second closest election in California history?

Lake County ends too close to call race

For four weeks, California’s race for state controller has remained too close to call. Swearengin, the controversial mayor of Fresno, secured the top spot with three candidates vying for second place. The day after the election, Yee lingered in fourth place behind Perez and unknown Republican David Evans.

While all eyes have been focused on the Democrats, Swearengin has quietly added $88k to her campaign, according to

Evans, who was largely ignored by the mainstream media and did not spend enough money to file a campaign finance report, was just 2,436 votes behind Perez, the top fundraiser in the race. As county registrars of voters worked their way through more than a million late absentee and provisional ballots, Evans temporarily claimed second place on June 6. All the while, Yee was narrowing her gap with Perez.

In the ensuing weeks, Yee and Perez swapped insignificant leads in a race that would come down to the last votes in the last county. Yee held an 861 vote lead — before Lake County’s final six thousand ballots were counted on Monday.

Are we headed for a recount?

Within five days of the Secretary of State’s official results, any voter can request a full or partial recount. It’s unclear what Perez intends to do.

“There are still votes to be counted,” Pérez’s political consultant, Doug Herman, told KQED’s John Myers by email. “We look forward to the final vote count.” (It’s unclear what votes the Pérez campaign has up its sleeve.)

Based on past elections, the margin between second and third place could be overcome. Recounts are rare, but the best information we have comes from a study by the Center for Voting and Democracy, which analyzed statewide recounts from 2000-2009. According to the study, “In the five cases in which the total votes cast were above two million, the margin shift was on average 0.016% of the vote (fewer than one for every 6,400 votes cast).”

Based on the 31st Congressional District recount, it would cost Asm. John A. Perez $3.06 million to gain the 484 votes he’s currently down.

With more than 4 million votes cast in the controller’s race, that tiny margin, 0.016% of the vote, would be 646 votes. As Yee’s campaign consultant Parke Skelton has pointed out, that figure is spread among six candidates.

“It would be strange indeed for Perez to pick up every vote in a recount with multiple candidates,” Skelton told

Financial and political cost of a recount

The potential for a stunning come-from-behind Perez victory, plausible but still improbable, would come with a high cost – both politically and financially.

A bitter recount would further exacerbate the divide between the two Democratic camps and allow Swearengin to gain ground. While all eyes have been focused on Yee and Perez, Swearengin has quietly added to her campaign war chest. Since Election Day, Swearengin has raised an additional $88,600 for her campaign, according to

The direct financial cost could also prove to be a major hurdle. Last month, in the 31st Congressional District, third place GOP candidate Lesli Gooch, who was just 209 votes behind Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, requested a recount. Gooch picked up a single vote in a recount that cost her campaign $6,330.

The recount in San Bernardino County, which is too small of a sample to accurately project statewide, had an error rate of 0.0782 percent, or 1 out of 1,278 votes. If applied to the state controller’s race, that could produce a statewide change of 3,159 votes. More than enough for Perez to make up ground on Yee. But, there’s no way to guarantee that the errors are in Perez’s favor. Yee is just as likely to see a recount add to her vote total.

Perhaps the more important number from the 31st Congressional District recount, which properly scales to the state controller’s race, is the cost of a recount. Gooch spent $6,330 to pick up one vote. If you apply that rate statewide, it would cost Perez $3.06 million to gain the 484 votes that he is currently down (484 votes x $6,330 = the cost to gain one vote). As of the last campaign finance report, Perez had $1.8 million in cash on hand.

That could explain Yee’s gracious tone in her victory statement.

“I want to congratulate Assembly Speaker Emeritus Pérez for his strong and positive campaign and for his leadership in restoring fiscal stability to California,” the statement read. “With the campaign now behind us, I call upon all Democrats to unite in the effort to hold this vital position as California’s chief financial officer.”

California State Controller: Final Election Results

Candidate Votes Percent
Tammy D. Blair              200,531 4.964%
John A. Pérez              877,707 21.729%
Betty T. Yee              878,191 21.741%
David Evans              850,104 21.046%
Ashley Swearengin          1,001,469 24.793%
Laura Wells              231,351 5.727%


Cross-posted at Cal NewsRoom.