Statement: “About 90 percent of the recounts continue to validate the person who won, which is me,” City Councilman-Elect John McCann said in Nov. 28 interview with NBC 7 San Diego.MostlyTrue

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Chula Vista City Council candidate John McCann has edged out opponent Steve Padilla by just two votes – for now.

Padilla said he’s likely to pursue a recount if no one else requests one first. McCann told NBC 7 last week that he isn’t too concerned by that prospect.

After all, McCann claimed, about 90 percent of election recounts don’t end with a new winner.

If that’s true, it would drive home the notion that recounts are a pricey gamble for politicians in California, who must foot the bill or wait for a supporter to do so to trigger a recount.

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The significant cost of a recount in San Diego County – likely more than $40,000 for a complete count, according to County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu – is ostensibly why Padilla’s waiting to see if someone else steps forward first.

It turns out, the 90 percent stat is mostly true, and it may even be a low estimate.

FairVote, a Maryland-based nonprofit that promotes election reform, studied statewide recounts across the U.S. from 2000 to 2012.

There were 19 statewide election recounts during that time, according to the group. Only three ended with a new victor. So about 84 percent of those elections validated the initial winner.

Former San Diego County Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack said that number would likely rise if local races were included too.

The initial winner maintains his or her win even more frequently in local recounts, said McCormack, who also served as the elections chief for Los Angeles and Dallas and now does consulting work.

“From my experience, it’s 90-plus (percent),” she said.

McCormack and other election experts weren’t aware of any counts that factored in local recounts.

Still, the election recount data that is available is close to McCann’s estimate, and election gurus said it offers a valid statistical comparison.

So we decided McCann’s claim is mostly true.

There are a couple nuances, though.

For one, we couldn’t find data that specifically addresses recounts in local races.

More crucially, though, this statistic is unlikely to apply to McCann’s race. He’s leading by just two votes, whereas most of the races FairVote analyzed involved an initial winner who was ahead by dozens if not hundreds of votes.

“When the margin of error is greater than the margin of victory then you’re in a situation where it’s a virtual tie,” McCormack said.

San Francisco-based election law attorney Jim Sutton agreed. The small difference means the tiniest shift could change the result.

“There’s no way of knowing at all which way they’ll go,” Sutton said.

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If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    In my view, the statement is misleading. While the broad statistic is factually true, it is improperly applied to the race in question (as noted by several experts in the article) and the former Registrar of Voters who calls this a virtual tie. In a sense, it's propaganda. Mr. McCann is desirous of discouraging a recount for obvious reasons.

    Dave Gatzke
    Dave Gatzke subscriber

    Don't some jurisdictions initiate an automatic recount when the margin is within a certain small percentage? With a vote this close, I would feel better as a voter if the Registrar's office initiated a recount regardless of whether it was triggered by the losing candidate. 

    And why does it cost over $1.00 per vote for a recount? (Estimate of $40,000 to count 37,000 votes). That's a large burden to place on the campaign for a city council seat, even in the county's second largest city.

    It will be very interesting to see if the recount differs at all from the initial count. If so, I hope we see some good coverage of why those discrepancies occurred. And, why does it cost over $1.00 per vote for a recount?

    bbq subscriber

    What a sad state of affairs in Chula Vista with the "election" of John McCann in the Chula Vista City Council, a quick review of the Votes counted verses the total number of registered voters in the City of Chula Vista, (36,894 vs. 113,956), only 32.3% of registered voters, voted.

    This means that no members of the new Chula Vista city council were elected with any type of mandate for what they stood for!  Far worse the McCann election was only 16.15% of the citizens of the city, with 2 votes only being .0018%,  I am sure he will boast that the public has spoken!

    What does this mean?

    It means there is a severe disconnect between the city and citizens caused by: no meaningful communication between the city and its citizens, special interests  and money shaping policy in Chula Vista, and no media coverage of consequence at City Council Meetings or analysis of their policies or decisions.

    Without better visibility of the council actions there will be no change in the way things are decided in Chula Vista.

    People, living in a democracy requires some work and diligence of the public.


    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Grylls: Interesting point. According to the Secretary of State, 44.8% of registered voters cast ballots in San Diego County during this election. Clearly this was higher in some political subdivisions of our county and lower in others (e.g. Chula Vista). In theory, countywide, in close races, 25% of the registered voters  could easily decide many races. Moreover, this doesn't include all the people with the right to vote, which would be substantially higher presumably.