California just dodged a bullet when former Assembly Speaker John Pérez mercifully rescinded his recount demand in the race for state controller. Now the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown must ensure we never end up in this predicament again.
Pérez finished third in the June primary, just 481 votes behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee, the second-place finisher, who now moves on the November general election. That margin works out to about 1/100th of 1 percent of the ballots cast in the race.
With the vote that close, Pérez's desire for a second look was reasonable. But the state has such cockamamie recount rules that this could have dragged on for weeks, perhaps months, easily endangering election officials' preparations for the November balloting. The recount could have even lasted beyond the general election.
Unlike California, 18 states require publicly funded, automatic recounts for very close races. It's time for us to get on board. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Francisco, plans to introduce legislation next month to ensure a timely and equitable procedure. We look forward to seeing his proposal.
Meanwhile, Pérez deserves credit for putting the state's interest above his political ambitions. While Yee will face Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, in the general election, Pérez faces an uncertain future.
"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," he said in a statement Friday.
We'll never know whether he's right that a recount would have changed the outcome. But he's spot on that continuing it was, as he put it, problematic.
State law sets no standards for how close a race must be to trigger a recount, and it has no provisions for the state to pay the cost. Instead, any registered voter willing to foot the bill can ask for a recount.
The law allows that person to try to bias the results by determining the order of counties, even precincts, to be re-examined. Rather than tallies simultaneously in all counties across the state, the time-consuming process can move sequentially from one registrar's office to the next.
Pérez abandoned his effort after ballots were checked in Imperial and Kern counties. He had originally asked for recounts in 15 counties. Had that reversed the outcome, Yee could have then asked for recounts in the remaining counties, again sequentially.
Certainly we can devise a better system than that. Next time, the losing candidate might not be so reasonable.