Assembly Speaker emeritus and Democratic Controller candidate John Perez announced over the weekend that he would seek a recount to determine who finished second in the June election. Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, another Democrat, beat Perez for second place by 481 votes. The second place finisher will face Republican Ashley Swearengin in November.
Perez wrote to his supporters, “Never in California history has the vote difference between two candidates for statewide office been so narrow, 481 votes or 1/100th of one percent, out of more than four million ballots cast. 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.”
Depending how extensive a recount Perez seeks (or if the Yee campaign asks for recounts in counties that Perez does not choose to investigate) the final count could drag out for weeks.
Long recounts have occurred before in American history. The state of Minnesota seemed to be a hot spot for such events.
In the 1962 Minnesota gubernatorial race incumbent Elmer Andersen lost by 200 votes to challenger Karl Rolvaag. The recount took 139 days with Rolvaag holding on for a 91 vote victory. As the recount was proceeding, Andersen was sworn in as governor on a provisional basis. Andersen included Rolvaag in on official business during the recount so there was little problem in turning over the reins when the final vote was confirmed and the new governor was sworn in.
More than four decades later the United States Senate race in Minnesota also went into overtime with challenger Al Franken defeating incumbent Norm Coleman after recounts and court actions that delayed Franken taking the oath of office five months after the term officially began.
In California’s case the recount will have to be completed before the ballots are printed.
Astute political analyst and Democratic consultant Garry South says it doesn’t matter which Democrat makes the finals, a Democrat will be elected controller in November. South’s reasoning in the form of a memo appeared in a Carla Marinucci article in the San Francisco Chronicle over the holiday weekend.
While South makes strong arguments, he pointedly relies on the history of the Controller’s race over the past 40 years, however, he does not mention Tom McClintock’s hair breath loss to Steve Westly in 2002 by .2%.
With Perez launching the recount, might a hotly contested Democratic race produce some bad blood that will flow over to the general election? Wishful thinking by Republicans, perhaps, since many voters are not familiar with the Controller’s job and might tend to vote for the party rather than the candidate.
Still, those who are aware of the Controller’s responsibilities may choose the Republican mayor of Fresno for the job. Swearengin has a fighting chance on a couple of fronts.
As Claremont McKenna College political science professor John Pitney, Jr. told me, “The likelihood of continued Democratic control of the governorship and Legislature could work to Ashley Swearengin’s advantage in the race for controller. She could make a very plausible case that a fiscal watchdog from the opposite party would serve as a check and balance against one-party rule. During the Rockefeller years in New York, voters kept re-electing Democrat Arthur Levitt, Sr. as Comptroller (same job, different spelling) for that very reason.”
Another factor is that Swearengin may be well funded. Republican donors are looking for a winner. If they pool their funds behind one or two candidates they believe has a chance to be elected, that candidate can be competitive in reaching the voters.
Republicans have a modest agenda this election. They want to keep Democrats from securing a two-thirds majority in the legislative houses and they want to elect at least one statewide candidate.
Election circumstances might conspire to help those agendas along.