Two congressional candidates tied. Now a recount is complicating the results even further

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, left, ex-San José Mayor Sam Liccardo and Assemblymember Evan Low
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, left, former San José Mayor Sam Liccardo and Assemblymember Evan Low are vying to fill California’s 16th Congressional District seat. Simitian and Low tied for second in the March primary and, pending a recount, all three are currently headed to the November ballot.
(Brad Barket / Getty Images: Tony Avelar / Invision/Associated Press: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The astonishing saga of a tied Silicon Valley congressional race took another zag this week, with a recount now underway in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Two candidates tied for second place in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), meaning both of them, plus the first-place finisher, will face off in the November general election, per the California elections code. The slated three-way race is an extraordinary outcome, even in the wild world of California politics.

It is the first time this has happened in a congressional race since the state shifted to its nonpartisan primary system in 2012, which dictates that the top two finishers advance to the November ballot regardless of party affiliation.


A recount could theoretically put a kibosh on a November three-way race, if the vote totals change. The calls for recounts have also raised questions about who is truly behind the effort and generated a fresh round of campaign mudslinging.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low, who repeatedly traded positions while votes were being counted, each finished with 30,249 votes. The first-place finisher, former San José Mayor Sam Liccardo, has a secure spot on the November ballot even if a handful of votes shift in a recount. Liccardo finished with 38,489 votes, well ahead of his challengers. All three are prominent local Democrats who fielded serious campaigns in the primary.

If the tied second-place tally changes by even a single vote, either Low or Simitian would lose his place on the November ballot.

The extremely unusual situation comes after weeks of uncertainty, with Joe Simitian and Evan Low repeatedly trading positions behind Sam Liccardo.

April 4, 2024

“It’s hard to believe this is really happening,” veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow said with a laugh of the latest twists in the race.

Sragow — who has been involved in campaigns since Richard Nixon was president — said he’d never dealt with a tie election result during his five decades in politics. It’s not something that strategists ever plan for or even think about, he said.

The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and encompasses parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including the cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View and part of the city of San José.


Santa Clara County and San Mateo County election officials both said they began the recount Monday, with the effort expected to last at least through this week.

Both county offices received two recount requests early last week, one from software developer Dan Stegink and the other from Jonathan Padilla, a onetime Liccardo campaign staffer who is co-founder and chief executive of the data company Snickerdoodle Labs, per Padilla’s LinkedIn page.

California elections code dictates that any voter can request a recount, so long as they are willing to pay its hefty cost. They are also required to disclose which candidate the request was made on behalf of.

Padilla and Stegink filed on behalf of Low. Stegink said he was requesting on behalf of Simitian and Low but named Low because he was required to pick one candidate and picked alphabetically, according to paperwork shared by the Santa Clara County registrar’s office. Stegink ultimately dropped his request after Padilla submitted the initial funds necessary to move forward.

Low’s campaign opposes both recount requests and said it has had no communication with the requestors.

They’ve accused Liccardo’s campaign of being behind the recount efforts.

“There’s zero doubt that Sam Liccardo orchestrated this recount, and Padilla’s declaration that the recount is on our campaign’s behalf is simply disingenuous. Clearly Sam Liccardo doesn’t think he can win a three-way race because he’s showing he will do anything to avoid one,” Low spokesperson Clay Volino said in a statement Wednesday. “Instead of filing for the recount himself, Sam is hiding behind a former staffer who’s mounting an extremely expensive and time-consuming recount for political gain.”

Orrin Evans, Liccardo’s political consultant, confirmed that Padilla had worked for Liccardo a decade ago on his first mayoral campaign, but said that the campaign “unequivocally had nothing to do with the recount.”


But Evans welcomed the request, saying in a statement that “recounts are part of the state’s electoral process to ensure accuracy” and noting that Santa Clara county had not included more than 100 ballots in their “final” because of voter signature verification problems and other issues.

Simitian appeared intent on staying of the fray, issuing a statement that said: “Eventually, this process will work itself out. My job is to stay focused on how I can best represent the folks in our district. And that’s what I’m doing.”

Padilla did not respond to questions sent to his attorney, but issued a lengthy statement Wednesday on the social media platform X, saying he had been involved in Democratic campaigns since childhood and was confused why “other Democrats don’t believe in counting votes and ensuring that the will of the people is transparently reflected.”

Stegink, who filed the other now-dropped recount request, said he had no prior contact with any of the campaigns.

Speaking to The Times from the Memphis airport while en route home from a trip to Graceland with his children, Stegink said that he’d filed the request because he believed that his next congressional representative should be selected with a majority of the vote, as would be the case in a two-way race, rather than with a much smaller plurality of the vote, as might be the case in a three-way contest.

A machine recount will cost about $12,000 a day and take one to two weeks, according to Santa Clara County spokesperson Michael Borja. Some other requests that Padilla has made, including an examination of vote-by-mail envelopes and materials used to verify voter signatures, could incur additional costs.


Padilla is required to provide the county with a $12,000 deposit each day the recount continues. If at any point he fails to pay, the effort will be halted. Its possible costs could be refunded depending on the outcome of the recount, but there are still open questions about how that would work in this situation.

A manual recount, which Padilla had previously requested, would have been far costlier, likely setting him back more than $300,000.

Santa Clara County accounts for the vast majority of the district’s voters, with about 82% residing there, while about 18% live in San Mateo County, according to California Target Book.

Recount costs will be far lower in San Mateo County, given the smaller number of votes being tallied.