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County Registrars: Overhaul Recount Process - But Carefully!

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The recount in the state controller’s race may be over, but that hasn’t stopped critics of California’s recount process from calling for an overhaul. County election officials are warning state lawmakers to write new rules carefully.

San Bernardino County Registrar Michael Scarpello spent last Friday staffing up. His county’s recount was scheduled to start on Monday. But it didn’t, because former Assembly Speaker John Pérez canceled his recount bid Friday afternoon.

“We had about 25 poll workers lined up and ready to go. We called them back Friday afternoon and said, we’ll see you in November,” Scarpello says.

To Scarpello, it’s how the current recount process works. But to Yolo County elections chief Freddie Oakley, it’s a process that needs an overhaul.

“When to do a recount – and who should pay for the recount – is clearly a problem that requires some legislative attention,” Oakley says.

Many county registrars say California law should mirror 20 other states and Washington, DC: automatic recounts in close state and local elections. There’s disagreement, however, on how narrow of a result should trigger the recount.

“I have no problem with one or two percent,” says Oakley.

“A tenth to, maybe, a twentieth of a percent,” says Scarpello. 

Most registrars also favor random samplings, rather than candidates getting to cherry-pick their best precincts.

And another thing: California’s current system charges whoever requests the recount, unless it changes the result. Registrars say the state should pay for automatic recounts within that narrow margin – but they fear the state will simply push the bill to counties.

Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan says these and other questions make it clear the Legislature shouldn’t rush to change recount laws. “We need to take the time to really think that through and put together a proposal that makes sense not just for statewide contests, but that addresses the recount process in general,” Logan says.

Lawmakers could try to change that process during their final weeks in session next month – or they could wait until next year.


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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