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Election officials across California began preparing Monday for hand recounts in thousands of precincts in the tight race for state controller.

With July normally a slow time on the election calendar, counties were calling back employees from vacation, getting in touch with potential members of recount boards, and generally boning up on the state's complicated recount procedures after former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez filed papers Sunday seeking hand recounts in 15 counties where he defeated Board of Equalization member and fellow Democrat Betty Yee.

"We've been working on this all morning," said Mary Bedard, registrar of voters in Kern County, No. 1 on the list of counties where Pérez seeks recounts. Bedard said employees on vacation have been summoned back to the office.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office is scheduled to hold a conference call with election officials in the 15 counties at 4 p.m. today.

It was still unclear Monday how long the recount could take and if that will hamper preparations for the Nov. 4 election.

Pérez wants the first recounts to be in Kern and Imperial counties. Bedard did not have an estimate of how long it would take her county to do the requested recount, and Imperial County Registrar Debbie Porter said it would take her county an estimated week-and-a-half to finish the all-county recount sought by the Pérez campaign.

But the Yee campaign said state law prohibits such simultaneous recounts. For now, Yee consultant Parke Skelton said, the campaign is watching and waiting and will consider seeking a recount of its own if Pérez's recount gives him the lead.

Skelton left open the possibility of litigation, citing the legal fight after the 2000 presidential election when Vice President Al Gore sought recounts in just Democratic-leaning counties in Florida.

"We're just assessing what our options are," Skelton said.

PHOTO: Under the watchful eyes of observers for then-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken, election official Kay Schuch sorts through ballots during the 2008 recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race. Mankato Free Press/John Cross



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