Big undervote in state controller's race -- did it cost Perez?

The Sacramento BeeJuly 4, 2014 

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Polling place at Engine House No. 5, a Fresno fire station on Fresno Street south of Shields Avenue, in the November 2010 election.

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The ultra-tight finish in California's controller race might have been a lot different if some 422,000 voters last month had completed their ballots.

As of Friday, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee led former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez by 481 votes for second place. Monday is the last day to request a recount.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is safely through to the Nov. 4 general election with more than 1 million votes.

There were 4.46 million ballots cast statewide, but only 4.04 million votes in the controller's race -- a difference of almost 422,000 votes and an "undervote" rate of 10.45%.

More than a quarter of those ballots were in Los Angeles County, where about 111,000 voters skipped over the controller's race, an undervote of 13.5%.

Pérez topped Yee by 4.8% in Los Angeles County. In the more than 3,200 county precincts where the Los Angeles Democrat beat Yee, turnout averaged almost 16% -- county turnout was 17% -- and the undervote was 13.3%.

In the more than 1,450 precincts where Yee outpolled Pérez, turnout averaged 20% but the undervote was almost 14%.

Undervote ballots sometimes become part of the recount process, with campaigns checking if election officials missed actual votes. But Yee consultant Parke Skelton said he doubted that would happen.

"You can inspect undervotes, but there is no reason to assume they will break differently than the electorate as a whole," Skelton said in an email.

The reporter can be reached at jmiller@sacbee.com.

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