Every vote counts in Silicon Valley, where two congressional candidates literally tied for second place

Evan Low, Joe Simitian and Sam Liccardo.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In an astounding outcome for a closely-watched Silicon Valley congressional primary, two second-place candidates have finished with the exact same number of votes — meaning both will be on the November ballot, along with first-place finisher, former San José Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The extremely unusual situation comes after weeks of uncertainty, with second-place finishers Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low of Campbell repeatedly trading positions, often while separated by just one or two votes. In the end, they each garnered 30,249 votes.

Liccardo maintained his first-place lead since the primary, securing his spot on the November ballot with 38,489 votes.

"It was like watching a snail race — the most exciting snail race I've ever witnessed in my life," Marva Diaz, a political consultant and publisher of the election guide California Target Book, said of watching the vote counts over the past month.

The candidates are vying to replace retiring Rep. Anna Eshoo of Menlo Park in a coveted, safely Democratic district that includes part of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

This will be the first three-way California congressional race since the state shifted to its nonpartisan primary system in 2012, which dictates that the top two finishers advance to the November ballot regardless of party.

In the case of a second-place tie in a primary election, California elections code stipulates that both candidates appear on the general election ballot along with the first-place winner.

Read more: ‘Path to 218 runs through California’: State races pivotal in fight to control the House

Both counties finalized their results Thursday, with the secretary of state's office expected to certify election results on April 12.

A three-way general election happened in an Assembly race in 2016, when former Assemblymember Autumn Burke faced off against two other candidates, as California Target Book research director Rob Pyers noted on Wednesday.

But both of the challengers were write-in candidates who tied with 32 primary votes each, making it a non-competitive general election race — and a very different situation from the battle brewing in California's 16th Congressional District.

The fact that all three congressional candidates are Democrats — rather than a Democrat and a Republican facing off against a third-party candidate, as might have been the case in three-way race under the state's old system — makes the situation particularly atypical.

Simitian, Low and Liccardo are also all current or previous elected officeholders who have run serious campaigns with significant fundraising.

The presence of three Democrats running robust campaigns will "change the dynamics immensely" for the November election, Diaz said.

"Running against one other person is very different than running against two other people," she said.

Eshoo announced her retirement in November after more than three decades in Congress. Democrats hold a more than 3-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans in the district, which includes the cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View and part of the city of San Jose.

Once the votes are certified by the state, either candidate could also request a recount, which they would be required to pay for. But in a situation where they are both headed to the ballot, the political calculus for requesting a recount would be cloudy at best, since it could potentially result in either of them losing their slot.

Low thanked his supporters in a statement Thursday, saying this "historically close race shows that every vote really counts."

Liccardo's campaign also put out a statement after the results were finalized, with consultant Orrin Evans saying they welcomed "the opportunity to continue to talk to voters about the issues facing our communities, including the high cost of living, utility rates and housing and Sam’s long record of fighting on behalf of residents.”

In a statement thanking supporters Thursday, Simitian said: "Sometimes it takes a while for democracy to work. This has been one of those times. Call it a cliffhanger, a rollercoaster, a wild ride — but it has absolutely been worth the wait!"

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.