Sam Liccardo: 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 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 Super PACs 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 Super PAC 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.

Sam Liccardo was mayor of San Jose 2015 to 2023. He is a Democratic candidate for the 16th Congressional District.

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  1. It must be nice to have “supporters” who can instantly come up with $300K in cash to help you drop one of the opponents from the runoff. Especially if they do it without even being asked!!!

    Every vote counts, ok, but this is just a Primary. Nobody won anything even after the recount.

    That is the whole point of a runoff, to choose the best from the top candidates.

    The only difference is that now there will be 2 candidates instead of 3 in November.

  2. TK, I do not understand why three choices is better than two? So that when a person wins with only 34% of the vote, people can complain that their voice wasn’t heard? We have an accurate count that solved that, now people can study the TWO candidates and really decide which they feel is better.

  3. Mr. Liccardo has secured the reduction of his opposition that he sought.

    All that was missing was replay from the 2000 farce when the Dems tried to take what they lost, the White House, complete with broadcast phone call performance and “a free and fair count.”

    Didn’t Mr. Liccardo realize that the likely dupes already have voted and later will vote again for him, or if not, would favor Low, anyway?

  4. To Concerned Citizen,
    Regular election process played out, these two candidates each received over 30,000 votes, with understanding that this is not a final round. Both candidates were equally supported by voters in the district and deserving to advance to November.

    Until Liccardo’s friends decided to assist the voters with decision making and “simplify” this runoff. Because surely voters will be unable to make up their mind properly if there are 3 candidates instead of 2?!!

    And while dropping $300K on a recount to make one of his opponents go away was not illegal, it showed how Liccardo is desperate to use all tools available to win this race. Especially, since he couldn’t get support of the majority of voters in the March Primary.

    What other tricks Jonathan Padilla has up his sleeve coming November to make sure Liccardo gets elected? And does he really think that all this elaborate legal maneuvering and making misleading sensationalized statements to the media is going to make voters dislike Sam Liccardo less?

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