Pérez calls off recount in California controller runoff

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Assemblyman John A. Pérez ended the recount in the controller race on Friday, halting a process that many have criticized as a weakness in California election laws.

The decision from Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, assures Betty Yee, a Bay Area Democrat and member of the Board of Equalization, a spot in the general election in November. She will face Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno.

Pérez called for the recount after finishing 481 votes behind Yee in the June 3 primary, but he was unable to gain traction after a week of double-checking ballots in Kern and Imperial counties.


Under California law, whoever asks for the recount has to pay for the process, and Pérez spent roughly $30,000 to gain only 10 votes. In addition, it appeared unlikely that the recount could be finished before ballots for the general election needed to be printed and mailed to military members and voters living overseas.

While Pérez said he would support Yee’s candidacy, he insisted a more complete recount could have turned the tide in his favor.

“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,” Pérez said in a statement on Friday.

Yee, on the other hand, said Pérez was “doing the right thing in recognizing that the recount was unlikely to reverse the outcome of the election.” She thanked him for his support, adding that “now we can move forward, united for the November general election.”

Pérez’s recount request, which originally included 15 counties, had stirred discontent within the Democratic Party. While his supporters said the process was worthwhile in such a closely contested primary, others hoped he would throw in the towel and allow Yee to focus on campaigning against Swearengin — considered by some Republicans to be their party’s best shot at winning a statewide election this year.

Democrats have already begun to line up behind Yee, and the party donated $50,000 to her campaign a week ago.


California’s recount process has been widely described as unfair by both participants and observers. Recounts are funded by candidates and campaign donors who can pick and choose the counties where they want ballots to receive closer scrutiny.

“California needs to rethink our approach and incorporate best practices from across the nation,” Pérez said in his statement.

Lawmakers have said they’re working on steps to change the process, including the possibility of automatic, taxpayer-funded recounts in close races.

Yee finishes ahead of Pérez after a primary in which she was dramatically outspent by him. Less than one month before the election, she had $115,000 in her campaign account, compared with $1.8 million for Pérez.

But neither the money, nor high-profile endorsements from labor groups, could translate into enough votes for Pérez. In addition, turnout was weak in Los Angeles, his home base.

Pérez’s next steps are unclear. He served as Assembly speaker until May, and is being forced out of his seat because of term limits. Pérez, 44, has already begun raising money for a potential campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.


“John is a young guy,” said John Burton, chair of the California Democratic Party. “He’s got a lifetime and a great career ahead of him.”

Twitter: @chrismegerian