SJ Inside: It’s the counting

“It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.”

Tom Stoppard

While the primary election in 16th Congressional District produced an oddity of a tied vote for second place, a recount is nearly complete.  In the next several days, county elections officials will finish their work, and declare whether one or both of my current opponents will face me in the November General Election.  This recount has made headlines locally and nationally–both for the unprecedented primary results, and the policy failures it has exposed. 

I’ve kept out of the fray throughout this time, preferring to allow the election officials to do their job.  I’m speaking up now, though, in anticipation of a verdict: to urge that regardless of our political viewpoint, we set aside the heated rhetoric long enough to embrace a few common conclusions: 

  • Most obviously: every vote counts.  Sharing that lesson more widely might encourage more people to vote. 
  • We should appreciate the diligent work of the employees of the Registrar of Voters in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.   They labor under the microscopes of attorneys and media, all eager to point to the slightest evidence of a mistake. Yet they have exceedingly low rates of error.  These individuals make our democracy function, and we should thank them.  
  • We must respect whatever findings the elections officials reach. We cannot countenance Trumpian demagoguery or unfounded accusations of manipulation that we saw in national elections in 2020.  After the recount, let’s accept the findings of the registrars and move on.   

Finally, we must embrace three lessons to avoid repeating this bizarre and messy episode again:

  • Provide Automatic Recounts in Close Elections 

The first lesson: the law must provide for automatic recounts in close elections, paid for by the registrar–not by candidates, outside donors, nor SuperPACs.   Twenty-three (23) states and the District of Columbia provide for such automatic recounts, as do several of our counties, including Santa Clara.  Our state legislature should require automatic recounts in legislative races.  

Counting votes is a public function.  It deserves complete public trust.  It shouldn’t be funded by private parties–and unavailable to those who lack the resources.  Yet it is–due to the absence of an automatic recount mandate.

  • Once Begun, Recounts Must Continue Until Their Conclusion

Now that the recount has begun, the recount must continue uninterrupted.  As we’ve seen, the recount has already prompted the recent inclusion of seven previously uncounted ballots in the registrars’ tally.  That alone suffices to demonstrate the imperative of doing this right– by counting every vote.   It also demonstrates the impropriety of the Low campaign’s repeated efforts to halt the recount.  The count must continue until the election officials have reached their findings.

  • Immediate Disclosure of Donors to SuperPACs

As noted above, the absence of any automatic recount requirement means that it is left to private parties–candidates or independent expenditure committees–to pay county registrars for the cost of a recount.  

Cue the drama: the individual who called for this recount, Jonathan Padilla, worked on a campaign of mine a decade ago, and supported me in this campaign. In addition to whatever commendable desire he might have to ensure an accurate count of every vote, we can presume that Padilla (and likely others) also did this for political reasons. If true, that hardly renders Padilla’s recount request illegitimate; it merely puts it in the same category as every other recount request in U.S. electoral history.  Elections are politically competitive. 

Regardless, I did not request this recount. Neither I nor anyone in my campaign has communicated with Padilla or his donors about the recount. Candidates and their campaigns cannot lawfully communicate with independent expenditure groups.  The fact that Padilla is a supporter of mine is not remarkable; every independent expenditure committee in history has been created by a candidate’s supporter.   

Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, we cannot rid our elections of SuperPACS and independent expenditure committees, but we can improve the transparency of their activities and donors to the public. The law should require every contribution to a SuperPAC to be publicly reported within 24 hours. As a Member of Congress, I would unequivocally support a bill mandating as much. 

  • Let’s Move Forward 

We should embrace these lessons to preserve our most hallowed of democratic institutions–the free and fair election–in a moment when the electoral process has come under repeated and unjustified attack. We can start by ensuring that–without suspicion or political drama–we count every vote. 

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These are difficult times. We need leaders like Sam Liccardo willing to think differently, act boldly and fight for us in Congress.

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