County Election Officials OK Recount of 16th District Ballots, if Requesters Pay

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.

Both men said they were requesting a recount of more than 190,000 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.

Assemblymember Evan Low says he didn't want a recount of the 16th District primary ballots. Evan Low File Photo

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, no earlier than 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.

Jonathan Padilla, a former Sam Liccardo aide, requested a recount of the 16th District vote, claiming it was on behalf of Liccardo opponent Evan Low. Jonathan Padilla photo from LinkedIn.

Low’s claim that Liccardo masterminded the recount request likely was 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.

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.

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo led the field in the March 5 primary for the 16th Congressional District. File Photo

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.”

"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.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian was tied with Evan Low for the runner-up spot in the March 5 primary for the 16th Congressional District. File Photo

Simitian appeared to take the recount news in stride.

“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.”

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.

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 $37,000 in advance to cover the first day of ballot counting – $5,000 for San Mateo County and $32,000 for Santa Clara County – and ensuing daily fees of approximately $40,000 throughout the expected 10-day recount.  The prices may vary, depending on any requests for extra examinations, such as envelopes.

Both men filed their recount requests in both counties, and election officials expect the requesters will be watching the recounts in person, along with campaign staffers and local news media. The entire process will be open to the public in both counties.

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 couldn't estimate how many staff will be working on the recount, but said they will be working from 8am to 4:30pm daily, also Monday through Friday, until the task is complete.

Santa Clara County election officials estimate a recount of all 153.263 ballots cast in the 16th district would cost about $320,000, and that 10% of that has to be paid prior to each day's count.

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.

Both counties 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.

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. It’s a political ploy to help Liccardo get elected.

    He is paying $100K to try to eliminate one of his opponents from the runoff.

    He did soooo much for San Jose, that now people working here would rather sit in traffic every day than live here, due to quality of life issues.

    It’s not a nice place to live anymore. But he is running for Congress now to help improve the rest of the country.

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