In 2010, California lawmakers approved legislation meant to reduce the incentive for expensive and contentious ballot recounts of the sort looming in the exceedingly close race for second place in the state controller's primary.
But the law went dormant at the end of last year and will have no bearing on the controller's contest between Betty Yee and John A. Pérez.
In a statement Tuesday, the Pérez campaign said it is conducting a review to "determine whether a recount is warranted."
"After nearly a month of counting votes and a vote margin of just 1/100th of one percent, out of more than 4 million votes cast, nobody would like to the see this process completed more than we would," the statement said. "Since this is one of closest statewide elections in the history of California, we have an obligation to review and ensure that every vote cast is accurately counted. During our review, we will also determine whether a recount is warranted."
The 2010 law invited counties to conduct "postcanvass risk-limiting audits" – statistical sampling to verify election results – instead of the 1 percent sampling of ballots that's been the norm since the 1960's.
The audits "have the potential to reduce the need for election recounts because the audit model begins with a small sample and gradually escalates – potentially to a full hand count – if significant differences persist between the machine and manual tally results," read a committee analysis of Assembly Bill 2023, which was sponsored by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
In a March 2012 report to the Senate, Bowen's office said that a pilot program showed that the audits were more accurate and efficient than the 1 percent sampling "which gave very little statistical proof that the election outcomes were correctly calculated by the voting system."
But the law – and a $230,000 federal grant to pay for it – had run its course by the end of 2013. No counties have postcanvass audits underway for the June 3 election.
That's a pity, said statistics expert Philip Stark. Such a statistical sampling of the controller's ballots likely still would have resulted in a 100 percent hand count given the closeness of the margin. But the process would be much less acrimonious than the possibility that the campaigns of Pérez or Yee or their supporters will wage a lengthy recount battle in various precincts around the state.
"The way it happens is different and kind of more pleasant and more neutral," Stark, the chairman of UC Berkeley's statistics department, said of a postcanvass audit. "At the end of the day it probably produces at least as strong scientific evidence about who the winner is."
Tuesday is the deadline for county election officials to complete their official canvass. Over the next five days, any member of the public can request a recount.
PHOTO: Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, who finished second in the June 3 race for state controller. Photo courtesy of the Board of Equalization.