The four-month race drew controversy over the Minnesota legislator's past record of associations with known anti-Semitic figures and critical stances on Israel. Perez named Ellison deputy chair of the party immediately after the vote.
Their dual front-runner status was reaffirmed last week, when New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley dropped out of the race to endorse Ellison. Some progressives said they were reluctant to fall in line behind Perez should he win. "That means we focus on turnout, and that is how we succeed".
It takes 214.5 votes to win - and Perez has come up just one short in the first round of voting Saturday by members of the Democratic National Committee meeting in Atlanta.
The former labor secretary Tom Perez is the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Hundreds of top Democrats newly energized by Donald Trump's presidency will gather in Atlanta Thursday to elect a new leader, a vote that will set the course for the party's future and the stage for the 2018 midterm elections. He has proven a formidable adversary for Ellison, picking up support from key Obama administration figures like former Vice President Joe Biden and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, has also endorsed Perez.
"We got into this mess because we lost elections".
In his statement, Sanders maintained that it is time for the Democrats to "stand up to the 1 percent" and advance progressive values. "The choice of Tom Perez to head the DNC is surely a gratifying step toward that goal".
Both final candidates had promised major efforts to rebuild party infrastructure at local and state level that withered across the U.S. despite former president Barack Obama's personal ratings.
Republicans occupy the White House, run both chambers of Congress and control about two-thirds of US statehouses. The GOP is one Senate confirmation fight away from a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
The race pitted the party's establishment which backed Perez against liberal activists who supported Ellison to see which faction could take control of a party left in disarray since presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's stunning defeat past year. He promised to "convert them from demonstration energy to electoral energy".
Ellison said the party must prioritize small donations and switch from anti-Trump "demonstration energy to electoral energy".
Perez and Ellison each pledged to rebuild state and local parties, including in Republican-dominated states.
And yet, there was another, potentially even more consequential dynamic in play in this race: the perception that Ellison vs. Perez became a proxy battle between loyalists of Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign, and the Democratic establishment that largely backed Hillary Clinton. Ellison had endorsements from Vermont Sen.
The election also offers the DNC a fresh start after last year's forced resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped aside after the release of hacked emails that appeared to show DNC officials trying to help Clinton defeat Sanders in the primaries.
In July 2015, Ellison told a disbelieving panel in an interview on ABC's "This Week", that Trump had the momentum and that he believed that there would be a good chance he would win the Republican nomination.