A split photo of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and California Assemblymember Evan Low.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low have tied for second place in the Congressional District 16 race. A recount could bump one of them off the ballot.

The race to replace Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is about as tight as it can get, and it will likely be weeks until it’s clear who’s going to the runoff.

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is in first place — securing his spot in the November general election — but there is a razor thin margin between second and third place. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low have been within several votes of each other, and a recount is likely. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, Simitian sits just one vote ahead of Low.

Both Low and Simitian’s campaigns did not confirm nor deny whether they will ask the state for a recount, but sources close to their campaigns said it’s imminent that whoever lands in third place will do so.

“The reality is given the fact that it’s so close, it’s going to trigger a recount by one group or another,” a source close to Low’s campaign told San José Spotlight. “Both sides are going to have to pay for lawyers.”

In the off chance that Simitian and Low tie for second, they could both join Liccardo in the general election, according to state election code 8142.

In the meantime, both candidates have been “curing ballots” — trying to fix ballots that have been damaged or not counted, oftentimes because of a missing signature.

Counties provide candidates with a list of ballots rejected in their race, enabling them to go door to door to ask voters to sign or “cure” the uncounted ballots.

Candidates can cure ballots up until the day before the county certifies the vote on April 4. They can request a recount if unsatisfied with the results. Here’s what you need to know:

What is a recount? 

A recount is a when votes cast in an election are re-tabulated to verify the accuracy of the original results. Recounts typically occur when there is a close margin of victory, claims of election fraud or because of possible administrative errors.

In California, there are no “automatic recounts” for statewide or multi-county races, like the contest for Congressional District 16. However, any registered voter, including a candidate, can request a recount within five days starting the 31st day after Election Day.

What happens when a recount is requested? 

Once someone requests a recount through the secretary of state, the county elections office must first verify the person requesting the recount is registered to vote in California.

The recount must begin within seven days after county officials receive the recount request, but cannot begin until a day after all candidates for that office and the secretary of state are notified the recount will take place either in person or by mail.

At least one day before the recount begins, county elections officials make public where and when the recount will be conducted. It must take place publicly in a location large enough to accommodate observers and media.

The recount must be conducted daily for a minimum of six hours each day until completed, excluding weekends and holidays.

How much does a recount cost? 

The person who requests a recount pays for it, and it can cost between a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Costs vary by county and depend on how many days it takes, if all precincts are recounted and whether the recount is done manually or by machine.

In Santa Clara County, it would take anywhere from $84,000 to $320,000, according to estimates by the county Registrar of Voters.

Registrar spokesperson Steve Goltiao said it would take approximately 10 days to tally votes by hand, at an estimated cost of $32,000 per day for a total of $320,000. If the requestor asks for a machine recount, it would take about five days to rescan all ballots at an estimated cost of $16,840 per day for a total of $84,200. This count does not include how much it would cost in San Mateo County, which shares Congressional District 16 with Santa Clara County.

If the recount changes the election outcome, the requestor is refunded the amount. If the outcome doesn’t change, the requestor may receive a partial refund, or a refund if the amount paid was more than the cost to conduct the recount.

How long does a recount take?

There is no deadline for when a recount must finish, but it can take anywhere from one day to a couple weeks.

How do counties ensure accuracy with recounts?

Sometimes results change in recounts. In a 2022 Sunnyvale City Council election, initial election results and a recount showed candidate Murali Srinivasan holding a one-vote lead over opponent Justin Wang, with another review validating three previously discounted ballots. A recount resulted in an exact tie between the candidates. Srinivasan won after his name was pulled out of a bag.

“Votes can change in a recount because each ballot is reviewed by human eye instead of being counted by a machine,” Goltiao told San José Spotlight. “The (registrar of voters) has quality control processes that catch most issues during post-election activities, but a recount provides an opportunity to look carefully at every single ballot.”

He added that recounts are open to the public to observe. In a manual recount, teams of four work together to ensure accuracy and transparency, allowing for team members to check each other’s work and to make sure no single person is making the decision of how to count ballots. Additionally, teams are asked to re-tally any precincts where there’s a question about the accuracy of the results, Goltiao said.

Any registered voter can request another recount within 24 hours of when the initial recount concludes. There is no restriction on how many recounts can be requested.

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

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