one vote makes all the difference
The 16th District primary race emphasized the accuracy of this election message. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

It’s official: Beginning April 15, there will be a manual recount of all ballots cast in California’s 16th Congressional District.

Requests for recounts from two men – one from Pacifica in San Mateo County and one from San Jose in Santa Clara County – were approved by election officials in the two counties late Thursday afternoon. The 16th District includes portions of both counties.

Assemblymember Evan Low (File Photo)

Both men said they were requesting a recount of approximately 182,500 ballots on behalf of State Assemblymember Evan Low – whose tie result with Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian for the runner-up spot in the March 5 16th District primary election prompted the recount – even though Low said Thursday in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want it.

In the “official” results, Low and Simitian each received 30,249 votes for the runner-up spot.

Low’s campaign went so far as to accuse former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo – who led Low and Simitian by 8,200 votes in the “official” tally – of engineering the whole thing to improve his chances of victory in November. “This is a page right out of Trump’s political playbook using dirty tricks to attack democracy and subvert the will of the voters,” Low’s campaign said in statement and on X.

State law requires that individuals requesting an election recount must name the candidate whom they believe would benefit from a recount.

When the dust settles and every ballot has been examined and certified, as early as April 26, two men will be left standing – Liccardo and one other – to start what promises to be a grueling six-and-a-half-month slugfest.

Low’s conspiracy theory may have been fueled by the fact that one of the two men seeking a recount is the former finance director of a Liccardo mayoral campaign and former member of Liccardo’s inner circle in City Hall, Jonathan M. Padilla.

Jonathan Padilla, a former Sam Liccardo aide.

Padilla is a tech CEO and crypto currency entrepreneur with deep pockets and strong ties to Silicon Valley, as well as the Bellarmine Prep/Harvard political connections of Liccardo and his successor, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan. Mahan endorsed Liccardo in January.

The Liccardo campaign vehemently denied any connection or even any conversation with Padilla about the recount effort – before or after the filing on Tuesday – and declined to discuss whether or how the political fortunes of the former mayor, a moderate Democrat, might fare better, with progressive Low or with moderate, pro-labor Simitian out of the race.

“There’s zero doubt that Sam Liccardo orchestrated this recount and Padilla’s declaration that the recount is on our campaign’s behalf is simply disingenuous,” said Low spokesperson Clay Volino in an evening press release. “Clearly Sam Liccardo doesn’t think he can win a three-way race because he’s showing he will do anything to avoid one.”

Volino said “the apparent coordination” of Padilla’s “extremely expensive and time-consuming recount… raises more questions than it answers.”

“Eventually, this process will work itself out,” he said in a statement. “My job is to stay focused on how I can best represent the folks in our district. And that’s what I’m doing.”

Progressive Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, whose 17th District includes Silicon Valley East, across the South Bay from the 16th District, went to X Thursday to blast Padilla’s recount effort as “a crass political ploy – and that’s why I’m with Low.”

Sam Liccardo. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

The first person to request a recount, on Tuesday, was Dan Stegink, a progressive from Pacifica, at the northwest corner of the district that stretches from the bay to the coast.

In response, Orrin Evans, a Santa Monica political consultant acting as spokesperson for the Liccardo campaign, said, “The Liccardo campaign would like to thank the tireless work by the election officials and volunteers whose dedication and labor make our elections fair and trustworthy. Every vote should be counted, and that’s why recounts are part of the State’s electoral process to ensure accuracy.”

Stegink is a former unsuccessful candidate for San Mateo County supervisor and for a county Democratic Central Committee seat who said the tie vote stretches credulity: “Statistically, mathematically, this is an impossible event.”

In an interview with the Los Gatan newspaper, Stegink conceded that he wouldn’t have enough money to personally fund an entire recount in both counties, which could exceed $400,000.

He said he was hoping that county governments in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties would pitch in to pay for the recount – but that isn’t allowed under State law.

Attempts to reach Padilla have been unsuccessful.

Election officials said that the recount will be immediately canceled if Stegink and Padilla can’t come up with more than $35,000 on Friday to cover the first day of ballot counting, and ensuing daily fees of approximately $40,000 throughout the expected 10-day recount. Both men filed their recount requests in both counties.

Joe Simitian pictured in Los Gatos. (Drew Penner / File Photo)

In the 16th District, Santa Clara County voters outnumbered San Mateo County voters nearly 4-to-1 on March 5, as a bigger share of the congressional district lies in San Jose and its western and northwestern suburbs and neighboring cities.

San Mateo election officials told the men they must pay $5,000 on Friday, splitting the costs, and that the 10-day count would cost about another $80,000. State Law requires that individuals who request recounts must bear the full cost of the ballot counting.

In San Mateo alone, the recount could involve 30 people working six hours per day for 10 days, Monday through Friday.

Santa Clara County election officials estimate a recount of all 144,000 ballots cast in the 16th district would cost about $320,000, and that roughly 10% of that has to be paid Friday.

If one of the men doesn’t pay on any given day, the other must be prepared to pay the full amount, or the recount will be canceled, according to election officials.

They said Stegink had requested a machine recount, which is cheaper and quicker than the laborious hand recount, but that because Padilla had requested a manual recount, State law requires that the slower, more expensive counting method would be used for the 16th District.

Since 2016, Santa Clara County has required taxpayer-funded recounts in extremely close elections—within margins of 0.5% or 25 votes – but that only applies to local elections within county jurisdictions.

*Drew Penner contributed to this report.

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