Local Politics

Friday, Jul 18 2014 04:42 PM

Controller candidate calls off recount

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    John Perez is the former California Speaker of the Assembly .

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Observers lean in to check the vote on the receipt of a touch screen ballot at the Kern County Elections Division on July 11 during the recount of votes for California controller. Micah Kagler, seated, of the recount board, was reading the votes.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Observers confer on July 11 following the tally of the first of 389 precincts at the Kern County Elections Division during the recount of votes for California controller.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The recount battle between John Perez and Betty Yee is over.

"They just pulled the plug," Kern County Deputy Registrar Karen Rhea said of Perez's camp at about 4:30 p.m. Friday. "Everywhere."

Perez, the former speaker of the California Assembly, took third place in the June primary balloting. He sat only 481 votes behind second-place finisher and fellow Democrat Betty Yee.

He called for a recount in 15 of California's 58 counties starting in Kern and Imperial counties in hopes of bettering Yee and earning a spot on the general election ballot against Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

But one week of ballot recounting produced only minor changes and so Perez's team terminated the recount late Friday, Rhea said.

"While I strongly believe that completing this process would result in me advancing to the General Election, it is clear that there are significant deficiencies in the process itself which make continuing the recount problematic," Perez said in a statement.

"Even in the effort so far, we have found uncounted ballots, but there is simply not enough time to see this process through to the end, given the fact that counties must begin printing ballots in the next few weeks in order to ensure that overseas and military voters can receive their ballots in a timely manner."

MISTAKES

The past week of recounts did produce minor changes in the election results, Rhea acknowledged. Some votes, she said, were overvotes or blank ballots the machines had trouble reading.

A hand review of those ballots allowed elections officials to determine whom a voter who failed to cast his or her ballot properly intended to support.

In one case the voter had circled Perez's name -- rather than bubbling it in -- and also written Perez's name on the ballot.

Other changes did come, she said, from counting errors. The counting machine sometimes jams or fails to tally a ballot.

If the elections worker stops the machine and mistakenly removes a ballot that has already been counted from the machine and recounts it, the results can be wrong.

That happens very infrequently.

On Thursday only two such mistakes were found in the 10,183 ballots that were recounted, she said.

MINOR CHANGE

The result of that was minimal progress for Perez at a high cost.

As of Thursday evening in Kern, Perez had whittled only three votes off Yee's lead in Kern County. He spent $20,095 on the Kern count, Rhea said, which adds up to a little more than $6,698 per additional vote.

Kern had counted 28,020 ballots by the end of Thursday.

With 44,310 ballots left to count in Kern -- all the county's ballots must be counted before changes can be certified -- Rhea believed it would take at least another week to finish the work.

Perez had been under pressure to end the recount from fellow Democrats who feared it would weaken Yee's chances in the general election.

The state party gave her $50,000 on the day the recount began and endorsed her last weekend. Thursday, the party's controller sent out an appeal for money and volunteers to help Yee, while never mentioning Perez.

When Perez threw in the towel, Swearengin released a statement, too.

"I'm looking forward to a healthy debate about our differing visions for state government and how best to use the controller's office to support economic growth and fiscal stability," she wrote.

LAST MINUTE

In the days and hours leading up to Perez pulling the plug, his campaign had pushed hard to speed up the count in Kern.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Perez's legal counsel asked Kern to scrap the hand count the candidate had requested and move to an electronic tally.

"We're sensitive to the time considerations. We are doing everything we can within the confines of the California recount process to move this process forward as expeditiously as possible," Stephen Kaufman, the attorney representing Perez, said earlier in the day Friday.

When Rhea informed the Perez campaign that a switch to electronic counting wouldn't significantly speed up the count, Kaufman withdrew the request, Rhea said.

She said machines would have had to be recalibrated and staff would have to be reorganized and reassigned before the count could restart, she said.

Those logistical adjustments would wipe out any benefits the speedier count might provide, Rhea said.

"My expectation is it would take us about the same amount of time," she said.

RELIEF

The decision to end the recount came as a relief to many, including Rhea and her team.

Rhea said that while Perez was footing the bill for the recount, the strain on her operation -- which was also preparing for the November general election -- was significant.

The recount forced her to delay staff's vacations, halt training for new workers and task her experienced staff with shuttling back and forth between two complicated jobs.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this story.

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