In 2000, it was the disputed “hanging chads” on Florida ballots that exposed major failings in the mechanics of how America voted.
Reforms were launched. In 2004, it was the “bubblegate” fiasco that cost Councilwoman Donna Frye the election for mayor of San Diego and exposed failings in the mechanics of how San Diego voted.
Reforms were launched. In 2014, it was the closeness of the primary election for state controller that exposed major failings in California recount laws. Reforms are needed.
In the June 3 statewide primary, Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, finished first with 24.8 percent of the 4 million votes cast. But the second spot in the November runoff remained undecided for more than six weeks. Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, finished a minuscule 481 votes ahead of Democratic Assemblyman John Perez, who asked for a recount.
That’s when the absurdity of the recount laws came into sharp focus.
Recounts are not automatic in close elections in California. Any candidate or voter can demand a recount as long as he or she is willing to pay for it. It’s hard to say how much it costs because every county sets its own pricing. Candidates can try to game the system by requesting recounts not just in certain counties where he or she did well but even in certain precincts. If a recount under way suddenly changes the outcome, the candidate can call a halt to the counting right then and there and declare victory — except that the opponent could then call for recounts in other counties and other precincts.
Perez called for a recount in 15 counties, starting with Kern and Imperial. The results didn’t change much and Perez finally conceded the race late Friday. The recount scheduled to start Monday in San Bernardino County was called off.
There is no deadline for counties in doing a recount. Yet, time was of the essence. Yee, Perez and Swearengin obviously had much at stake. And millions of general election ballots must be printed and in the mail to military service members and other Californians living overseas by Sept. 5.
This is not the way it should work.
The outcome of elections should not depend on the ability of a candidate to pay for a recount. Recounts should be automatically triggered in extremely close elections and the state should pay for them.
The outcome of elections should not be determined by a partial recount of votes in cherry-picked precincts and counties. If there is to be a recount, it should be in all precincts in all counties.
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, says he will introduce legislation next month to overhaul the recount laws. We look forward to seeing just what he proposes.
The fair and accurate counting, or recounting, of votes is at the core of democracy. California’s laws are a mockery of fairness and accuracy.