County Extends Automatic Recounts for November General Election

September 14, 2016


The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to make sure every vote is counted correctly in the County’s closest elections. At the urging of County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the Board voted to extend a pilot program of automatic, publicly-funded recounts for the November 8th General Election in contests where the margin of victory is less than either .5% (one half of one percent) of ballots cast, or 25 votes or less.

“The right to vote is fundamental,” Simitian said. “And when it comes down to the wire, we want to make sure that every vote counts, and is counted correctly.”

At the May 24, 2016 Board of Supervisors meeting, on Simitian’s motion, the Board directed the Registrar of Voters to conduct an automatic recount for any local contest wholly contained within the boundaries of Santa Clara County that fell within the .5% margin, or 25 votes or less.

Previously, candidates could get a recount only if they – or another concerned community member – covered the cost, no matter how close the election. In almost every instance the cost would be too great for an individual candidate to absorb.

Santa Clara County had five contests in the last half-dozen years with less than .5% or 25 votes or less between candidates (including one race decided by a 2 vote margin), including in the Cambrian and Alum Rock School Districts and in City Council races in Milpitas and Monte Sereno. Most recently, one contest in the June 2016 primary election triggered an automatic recount, which lead to a change in the margin of victory from 28 votes to 12 votes.

“This isn’t an abstract idea,” said Simitian. “These elections can be incredibly close, and an individual candidate not being able to afford a recount shouldn’t mean that we don’t do everything we can to get it right.”

Currently, twenty states and the District of Columbia provide for automatic recounts if an election meets a certain threshold of closeness. California joined this group with the passage of Assembly Bill 44 (AB 44) in 2015, which the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support. However, AB 44 only applies to statewide contests, meaning local and county-wide elections don’t get the same protection.

“The Registrar of Voters has one essential job,” said Simitian. “Count the votes, and count the votes correctly. We should make sure that they have every tool at their disposal to make that happen.”

Automatic recounts are the latest step that the County has taken to improve Registrar of Voters operations. Last year the Board authorized additional staffing and technology to improve efficiency and the timeliness of reporting. The Board also adopted Supervisor Simitian’s proposal to make vote-by-mail ballots postage-paid, eliminating yet another a barrier to voter participation.

Simitian’s interest in this issue is in part a function of the role he has previously played as an election supervisor and observer in Bosnia and El Salvador. “You watch what people in other parts of the world go through in order to cast a ballot, and you become very clear about the importance of every vote cast.”


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