The loading bay of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, with boxes of ballots stacked up waiting to be recounted.
The California Secretary of State says the requester of a Congressional District 16 recount can't be refunded. Photo by Jana Kadah.

A week after an expensive and highly-criticized recount of ballots began in a tied congressional race, the California Secretary of State says the requester will not get his money back.

Santa Clara and San Mateo counties jointly sought guidance from the state about whether the recount requester, Jonathan Padilla, would get reimbursed if the Congressional District 16 recount changes the results of the March 5 primary election. Padilla, a tech CEO and former campaign staffer of ex-San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo — the frontrunner in the race — requested the recount.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low both advanced to the November runoff with Liccardo after securing a rare tie for second place. A recount is expected to break the tie, sending only one of the two politicos to face off with Liccardo in the fall.

But that will not give Padilla his money back. The recount is costing him $12,000 a day in each county, and he paid for it using a “dark money” super PAC that has yet to disclose its donors, but is created by the same people who have supported and worked with Liccardo. The former mayor is now facing a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging he coordinated the recount and schemed illegally with the PAC.

Padilla called the complaint “completely frivolous without an iota of evidence,” and an attempt to distract voters. He maintains that the recount is to make sure every vote is counted.

“I didn’t get into this recount with the aim of getting money back,” Padilla told San José Spotlight. “I got into this effort to ensure every vote is counted and every voter has confidence in our democratic institutions.”

Typically, a requester will get their money back if the recount results in an a change of the outcome. But the reason the counties will not issue a reimbursement is that Simitian and Low are already on the November ballot, and the recount can only change by knocking one candidate off the ballot — not by adding one.

“If the current recount results in a change, where only one of the currently tied candidates would move on to the general election after a recount, it would not result in any reimbursement under Elections Code section 15624,” Robbie Anderson, a lawyer with the California Secretary of State, said to the Santa Clara County counsel in an email obtained by San José Spotlight.

Padilla said the state should have automatic recounts and not rely on voters to ask governments to check their work.

He shared a letter on social media from his lawyer at Rutan & Tucker that claimed 24 ballots were identified the recount — which began on April 15 — that were not counted in the initial results.

“The only thing ensuring that those votes we’ve identified have a chance of counting is private funding,” Padilla said. “Our Democratic institutions are too sacred to have a price attached to them.”

The letter claims a majority of contested ballots came from voters who received a provisional ballot on Election Day after Santa Clara County failed to recognize them as registered voters.

The voters reportedly did not answer the citizenship question, which resulted in their ballots being rejected. The ballots should’ve counted, the letter argues, because signing the form attests to them being U.S. citizens — and they’re registered voters who didn’t need a provisional ballot.

One ballot was cast by a homeless person, the letter claims, which was supposedly rejected for not having a legitimate address. Election law requires officials to count ballots of unhoused residents.

“This voter has provided a sufficient geographic location as to his residential whereabouts and should likewise not be denied the right to vote for not citing as his residence an officially-designated address,” attorney Matthew Alvarez wrote in the April 18 letter.

Santa Clara County is expected to make an announcement on whether those ballots will be counted by Tuesday afternoon, sources told San José Spotlight. The recount is also expected to be completed by the end of the week.

San Mateo County finished counting its mail-in ballots on Monday and will count provisional ballots Tuesday Padilla’s attorneys challenged 28 ballots, of which 16 were rebutted by either Low or Simitian’s attorneys.

Liccardo and Low’s campaigns declined to comment. Simitian’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter. Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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