Simitian and Chavez Push for Automatic Recounts in Close Election Contests

February 10, 2016


The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to make sure every vote is counted correctly in the County’s closest elections. At the urging of County Supervisors Joe Simitian and Cindy Chavez, the Board preliminarily approved a plan to provide automatic, publicly-funded recounts in elections that come down to less than .5% of ballots cast, or less than 25 votes.

“The right to vote is fundamental,” Simitian said. “And when it comes down to the wire, we want to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard clearly and correctly.”

Under the current system, candidates get a recount only if they – or another concerned community member – cover the cost, no matter how great the cost or how close the election.  In almost every instance the cost would be too great for an individual candidate to absorb, and may in fact be precluded by campaign spending caps.

“As things now stand,” said Simitian, “even if it comes down to a couple of votes, a candidate is obliged to pick up the very substantial cost of a recount to make sure everyone’s vote is counted correctly. It shouldn’t be up to an individual candidate or voter to cover the tab for making sure we get it right at the County.”

Santa Clara County had four contests in the last half-dozen years with less than .5% or less than 25 votes between candidates (in the Cambrian and Alum Rock School Districts and in City Council races in Milpitas and Monte Sereno). In fact, the Cambrian School Board race in 2014 was decided by just two 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 tightness. 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.

“Voter trust in the democratic process is paramount to our democracy,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “This would be another move toward affirming the public’s trust through transparency.”

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

“We’ve made a lot of progress in making it easier for people to vote and make their voices heard,” said Simitian. “With more resources at the Registrar of Voters, access to postage paid vote-by-mail ballots, and automatic recounts in the closest contests, the public can feel confident that their vote really does count, especially when it counts the most.”
The Board has asked the County Administration to return with recommendations on how the cost of recounts should be covered and alternatives, if any, to a full recount in County-wide elections.



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