A crowd of people at an election night watch party
Assemblymember Evan Low is running for the Silicon Valley Congressional District 16 seat. Low is pictured at the South Bay Labor Council election night party in March. File photo.

After a controversial congressional recount spurred by dark money, one lawmaker is introducing a bill to mandate automatic recounts for statewide elections with tight margins.

Assembly Bill 996, authored by Assemblymember Evan Low, calls for any statewide election with a margin of less than 25 votes or 0.25% of the cast ballots to be subjected to an automatic recount, which mirrors Santa Clara County’s automatic recount policy for county elections. The bill would also require contributors who spend $10,000 or more on voter-requested recounts to be reported to county election officials and publicized within 24 hours.

Low himself was subject to a voter-requested recount with unknown funders in the Congressional District 16 contest, during which he tied with Supervisor Joe Simitian for second place in the March primary election. He said automatic recounts on tight races will protect election integrity and ensure recounts are impartial.

“Locally in Santa Clara County, very close races are already recounted automatically and that should be the case for any state race that is extremely close,” Low told San José Spotlight. “AB 996 will ensure California election integrity and transparency by requiring recounts in close races and disclosure of large donors in voter-requested recounts, helping boost voter confidence in California’s elections.”

The unprecedented recount placed Low second in votes, with Simitian conceding in May. Low will face off with former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in November for the seat.

A spokesperson pointed to an op-ed Liccardo wrote in which he advocated for automatic recounts and 24-hour disclosure of super PAC recount funds. He wrote that automatic recounts are vital to ensuring every vote is counted in an election.

“Counting votes is a public function. It deserves complete public trust,” Liccardo wrote. “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.”

He said he would support efforts to improve super PAC transparency in Congress, including a bill mandating that super PAC and independent expenditure funds be reported within 24 hours.

Simitian declined to comment for this story.

The recount was requested by Jonathan Padilla, who previously worked on Liccardo’s mayoral campaign, and by former San Mateo County supervisor candidate Dan Stegink. Padilla fronted the $24,000 daily recount costs through the super PAC Count the Vote, which received a transfer of $102,000 from another super PAC, Neighbors for Results, that had also been spending to support Liccardo.

The recount cost $360,000 in total, based on its daily costs, leaving roughly $258,000 raised by the super PAC from a different source. The Santa Clara County Democratic Party demanded transparency from the recount’s funders, as did Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who holds the seat and is retiring at the end of the year.

Low said the money moved through super PACs was a “loophole that must be closed.”

“The public should know when large sums of money are being used to influence our elections, which is why California voters approved the Political Reform Act of 1974 in the first place,” Low told San José Spotlight.

AB 996 is awaiting referral to a state Senate committee.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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