Recount advocates say California should stop favoring the rich

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, left, who finished first, will face Rep. Evan Low, center, in the November runoff. After the recount, Low finished five votes ahead of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, right.

We just finished another recount in the Bay Area and this one was particularly ugly, proving the adage that politics is a contact sport. Accusations, whether founded or not, are coming from all camps. It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t have been this way.

We have represented clients in dozens of recounts across the state during our career. Sometimes recounts change the results, sometimes they don’t. This story in the 16th The congressional district, covering parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, actually changed the results and could impact the choice of congressional candidates.

What was initially thought to be an exact tie for second place, which would have pitted former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo against state Assemblyman Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor , Joe Simitian, in a three-way runoff in November, will now result in a head-to-head battle between Liccardo and Low. After recounting the nearly 180,000 ballots over three weeks, it appeared that Low beat Simitian by five votes.

This recount was necessary to verify the will of the voters. But it almost didn’t happen because our elected leaders refused to pass legislation requiring an automatic recount in close elections. This story demonstrates why their refusal must end.

Current law requires private funding of recounts. This of course favors the wealthy and special interests who can come and pay for a recount for their preferred candidate. This recount cost more than $300,000.

California’s county voter registrars do an excellent job counting votes, but the system is far from perfect. We do not intend to criticize officials who count and sometimes recount votes. They pass 99.99% of the time, an A+ in school. But sometimes a perfect score is necessary to determine the true will of voters.

The reasons for miscounted votes are not nefarious at all. Even though voting machines have become more sophisticated and registrars have become more efficient at verifying signatures, a small number of ballots are miscounted each election. If a voter crossed out their initial vote, the machine may incorrectly read the corrected ballot. The same thing can happen if a voter writes an editorial comment or scribbles on the ballot. There are a multitude of reasons why a vote may be wrongly rejected or miscounted.

Some elections end in ties or separated by a handful of votes during almost every election cycle. But it’s rare for candidates or concerned citizens to raise the resources to pay for a recount – and they shouldn’t have to. Given the likelihood that human or human error may have miscounted at least some votes, the government should intervene when results are incredibly close. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., provide for an automatic or mandatory recount; California should do the same.

What we fear, but hope is not the case, is that lawmakers have deliberately resisted the automatic recount because it ultimately gives them, and the special interests that brought them to power, more power over the result. As the system currently works, unions, corporations, wealthy individuals and advocacy groups can choose to pay for a recount when the results are very slim, in order to gamble the chances of their preferred candidate winning the election. power. Candidates generally don’t have the resources to do this – again, the recount here costs more than $300,000 – and ordinary citizens never do.

To help determine a legal threshold, statisticians can determine exactly when a recount is likely to change the results and should therefore trigger an automatic government-funded recount: When the difference between candidates is 0.25%? A tenth of one percent? Certainly when there is a tie.

Whatever that number, fair and reliable elections require an automatic recount when we all know the initial results are not perfectly accurate. What just happened in Congressional District 16 proves this point.

Jim Sutton is the past president and Matthew Alvarez is the current vice president of the California Political Attorneys Association. They represented Jonathan Padilla, the recount petitioner in Congressional District 16.