Assemblyman Evan Low seeks new state law making recounts automatic in close races

A contentious South Bay race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D) Palo Alto, could lead to a change in state law.

Assemblyman Evan Low said Thursday he wanted to take the political intrigue out of the recounts, by taking a page out of the Santa Clara County election playbook. Low wants recounts to occur automatically in close contests.

The March Primary saw Low, Joe Simitian and former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo the three candidates still standing at the end of ballot casting. Normally, the top two finishers advance to the general election in November. But in this case, Low and Simitian were tied, each having 30,249. Liccardo was in the top spot, nearly 6,000 votes ahead.

Then, former Liccardo staffer Jonathan Padilla then ponied up $24,000 a day via a super PAC to pay for a recount of ballots that ultimately gave Low a slim second-place advantage. The appearance of outside influence infuriated Low, prompting him to push forward a bill.

"He’s making a strong argument as he’s heading into the general election. He’s effectively being able to keep alive this idea that the front-runner in the race was trying to support the recount," said Dr. Corey Cook, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College.

AB996 would mirror existing practice in Santa Clara County. It would mandate a recount by the state in any election where the margin between candidates is razor close – less than 0.25%, or, less than 25 votes. And, it would require within 24 hours any contributors of $10,000 or more for voter-requested recounts to be reported to county election officials and published on county election websites.

"Let’s get the politics or at least the perception of the politics out and have a process that all can abide by," said Low via a Zoom video link from Sacramento. "We should not be factoring the ability to pay or who is paying for a recount. Taking those issues aside, this is why it is important we are mirroring the County of Santa Clara on this automatic recount."

Low beat Simitian by a handful of votes thanks to the recount.

Joe Simitian told KTVU he had no comment about the proposed change in state law.

Low’s election team said their boss was never against recounts but is against "outside money" paying for a recount that benefits the front-runner.

Front-runner Liccardo will square off against Low in the general election Nov. 5. But before that, Low is working AB996 through the legislature. A hearing could happen at the end of June.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Instagram, @jessegontv and on Facebook, @JesseKTVU