SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A lower percentage of voters went to the polls in the June primary in California than in any previous statewide election, the secretary of state said Friday as elections officials in Imperial and Kern counties began recounting ballots in the contested race for state controller.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the disappointing 25.2 percent turnout was less than the previous low turnout of 28.2 percent in June 2008.
Yet if there was ever a statewide election where every vote mattered, last month's contest was it, she said.
"If there is any silver lining, I hope it's a reminder to people who didn't vote in June to take note of close results such as the state controller contest and commit to going to the polls in November," Bowen said in a news release.
The time-consuming recount in that race came after a razor-thin finish for second place that left former Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, just 481 votes behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization. A total of 4.46 million votes were cast in the controller's race, with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, finishing first.
Under California's primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the November election, regardless of party.
Perez sought the recount — the first in a statewide office election in modern history — in 15 select counties in an effort to pull ahead of Yee. The process could drag on for weeks, even as deadlines loom for the November general election.
California law allows a candidate or any registered state voter to request a recount in any precinct in any county, but they must pay for it from campaign funds.
The estimated bill is $4,019 a day in Kern County and $1,640 a day in Imperial County, an amount that must be paid in advance of each day's work. Each of those counties could be counting ballots for two weeks or longer.
Both candidates sent observers to watch as elections officials pored over hundreds of ballots on Friday.
"So far it's been very non-controversial. It's very clear who the voters wanted to vote for, and the tallies are identical so far every time," said Yee campaign consultant Parke Skelton, who was overseeing the vote-counting in Imperial County.
The controller serves as the state's chief fiscal officer, and is responsible for managing incoming and outgoing payments.
The recount doesn't have to be finished by a specific date, but county clerks are racing against other deadlines ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.
Voter information guides are set to go on public display starting July 22. Counties must translate ballots into other languages, print them and begin sending vote-by-mail ballots Sept. 5.
Bowen certified the primary results on Friday. She said the election also had the highest rate of voting by mail, at 69 percent, beating the June 2012 record of 65 percent.