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OP-ED: Let’s bring state’s recount system into the 21st century
August 23, 2014, 05:00 AM By Kevin Mullin

Kevin Mullin

The recently initiated recount in the primary race for state controller was the result of a 481 vote difference between second- and third-place candidates. Under current law, former Assembly Speaker John Perez had every right to pursue a recount. However, the current recount process is not a “full” recount and must be paid for and initiated by a candidate or voter, making it a fundamentally inequitable process. There is no doubt the existing recount process is critically flawed. The time for reform is now.

While election system errors are relatively rare in California, it is possible for outcomes in narrow races to change after a full recount. Current law allows a candidate to specify the counties they want to recount and if they make up the vote difference in those specified counties, then their opponent takes a turn in selecting counties in an effort to recover the votes lost. This inefficient back and forth continues until every vote is counted, or a candidate runs out of money. It also raises the question of fairness: Should the person with the deepest pockets be able to “out-recount” his opponent?

The obvious answer is “no.” In statewide elections, where millions of ballots are cast, the state should be responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the vote, not a candidate or voter. The current system has been criticized by many, including the candidates involved in the recent recount. Above all, our system of governance demands that the election process is fair and transparent for all voters and candidates.

I have introduced legislation (AB 2194) that will require the secretary of state to order a full manual recount of any statewide office or ballot measure election if the margin of victory is one-tenth of 1 percent or less. This bill is the first step in reforming and modernizing our recount system. If passed, AB 2194 would sunset on July 1, 2015, which will ensure the process is in place for the November 2014 general election. I intend to work in partnership with the new secretary of state to improve and modernize the recount process and ensure permanent legislation is in place no later than the 2016 primary and general elections.

Some question the cost of reform; however, with a sufficiently narrow threshold automatic recounts would be very rare. What’s more important to consider is the cost of not correcting this system. If the recount debacle had continued, we don’t know what the impact on ballot distribution for the general election would have been, but all the available options would have been problematic. More important than the financial cost of the proposed reform is the integrity of our electoral process.

The most populous state in the Union and the eighth largest economy in the world needs a modern, accountable elections system. Twenty other states already have standardized policies in place. California lags behind and now is the time to step up.

The bill is currently awaiting a procedural vote to allow for a hearing in Senate Elections Committee and must pass by Aug. 31 before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Kevin Mullin represents the 22nd Assembly District and is the Assistant Speaker pro Tempore of the California State Assembly. He chairs the Select Committee on Biotechnology and serves on the following committees: Budget, Budget Subcommittee #4 on State Administration, the Business and Professions, Local Government, Utilities & Commerce, and Revenue and Taxation. The 22nd district includes the cities of Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Foster City, Hillsborough, Millbrae, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, portions of South San Francisco and the San Mateo County Coastside communities of Montara and Moss Beach.



Tags: recount, state, process, system, election, current,

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