I’m a surgeon and an election integrity advocate. The partial recount in the Controller’s race constituted minor surgery, but what’s really needed to reform California’s elections is major surgery.
A partial recount can be an effective way to determine when a complete recount is necessary. A partial recount should not reverse the results of an election, as current California law allows. Public confidence in elections is not served when only those voters who are able to pay then win by selectively choosing the precincts to recount.
When the margin of victory is extremely close, a full recount should automatically be available by request to the candidate and eligible for taxpayer funding.
Close-vote recounts are always emotionally charged, and hard fought events. Campaigns seek to win in a hand recount by adding ballots that were missed by machines, disqualifying their opponent’s votes, and looking for irregularities and fraud under every ballot. To allow the Controller’s recount to linger until the requesters have either run out of money or finally counted all the ballots risks that a winner will not be known in time to prepare the ballots for the general election in November.
In some states, a narrow margin of victory triggers an automatic statewide recount at no cost to the candidate. California does not have such a provision, and I believe we need one. Specifically, our Legislature should introduce these two provisions into the Elections Code:
1) When the margin of victory is extremely close, a full recount should automatically be available by request to the candidate and eligible for taxpayer funding. 2) If a partial recount provides sufficient evidence that the initial outcome may be reversed if a recount of all precincts were to be conducted, then provisions for a full statewide recount should be available.
When the California Legislature reconvenes in August, the important operation should begin to update California’s recount laws before the November 2014 election.
I requested the first recount of a statewide ballot initiative in California’s history (Proposition 29) in June of 2012. The math did not add up, and the outcome needed to be audited. The current Controller’s recount is the third of a statewide election in California’s history, and the razor thin margin of 0.01% is well within the known error rate of 0.1% in counting ballots. The key to the Controller’s recount may come in Los Angeles County, where it was discovered during the hand recount for Proposition 29 that nearly one percent of the votes cast in June of 2012 were initially missed by voting machines. After hand recounting ten percent of the votes cast, Yes on 29 gained nearly 250 votes. John Perez defeated Betty Yee by nearly 5% across LA County, and the 481 vote difference in the Controller’s race could be closed if several thousand ballots missed by machines remain to be added to the final totals.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen has the authority to order a recount if there is reasonable cause to believe that the outcome is in question, and I call upon Debra Bowen to undertake that important action if a significant error rate is found in any county during the Controller’s recount. When the California Legislature reconvenes in August, the important operation should begin to update California’s recount laws before the November 2014 election.
Public confidence in our election outcomes is essential to democracy. When an election is essentially a tie, the only way to achieve this confidence is to recount all legally cast votes.
Ed’s Note: John Maa is the first person in California history to request the recount of a statewide ballot measure, and assisted in the creation of Recount Principles and Best Practices, a policy report from a bipartisan national group with extensive recount experience.