The woman who requested a ballot recount of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ District 2 race must reimburse the county for the full cost of the process, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court commissioner ruled Friday.
San Miguel resident Darcia Stebbens is required by state law to pay the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office a total of $53,346 for the costs it incurred during a recount for for the race won by incumbent Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Commissioner Leslie Kraut said in her ruling.
Stebbens had paid the majority of her bill but questioned her obligation to pay the remaining $4,448.21.
County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano then sued Stebbens in small claims court to recover the funds.
After two days of testimony at the Superior Court’s Grover Beach branch, Kraut ordered Stebbens to pay the $4,448.21 as well as Cano’s $90 court costs.
Kraut said that California code empowers Cano as the county’s elections official “to determine what is necessary to conduct the recount, ‘including, but not limited to’ additional supervision, administrative costs, and legal costs,” Kraut wrote in her decision.
California code also requires the recount requester to pay all costs created by the recount — meaning Stebbens must pay the bill tallied by the SLO County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, Kraut said.
“(Cano) has proven all costs listed were incurred as a direct result of the defendant’s request for a recount,” Kraut wrote. “There is nothing unreasonable or untoward about the listed costs for copies and materials, or for the entire labor costs incurred.”
Stebbens has 30 days to pay the fee or appeal the decision.
As of Thursday afternoon, Stebbens had not yet paid the county her total balance, according to Cano.
Recount requested for SLO County supervisors race
On Dec. 12, about a week after the results of the November election were finalized, Stebbens requested a recount for the District 2 supervisor race.
Gibson defeated his challenger, Templeton resident Bruce Jones, by a total of 13 votes, according to the certified election results.
The recount started on Dec. 19 when Stebbens paid the county $16,995. The sum covered estimated costs for preparing the recount and the first day’s tasks.
Each morning, the county charged Stebbens the estimated cost of the day’s recount work, including time spent sorting and counting ballots, hiring security, and printing physical materials, Cano said.
According to Cano, “the daily estimated cost fluctuated” based on staff duties and number of staff needed per activity.
When the recount ended, the county tallied all actual costs that weren’t included in the estimated costs, and informed Stebbens that she owed another $7,367 on Jan. 18, Cano said.
When Stebbens didn’t pay by the original Jan. 25 deadline, the county extended the deadline to Feb. 3, when Stebbens paid the county another $2,918.92, according to Cano.
The county gave Stebbens another chance to pay the remaining $4,448.21 on Feb. 23.
Stebbens refused, and Cano filed a lawsuit on May 1 to recover the remaining funds.
Why did court order San Miguel woman to pay full amount?
Stebbens disagreed with paying three charges: hours worked by county counsel, benefits packages of employees working on the recount and printed copies of recount guidelines supplied to staff and observers.
She asked Kraut to remove those costs from the remaining balance.
Cano, however, said the county would not have incurred those three costs if Stebbens hadn’t requested the recount — so they are Stebbens’ responsibility to pay.
The commissioner agreed with Cano.
Kraut cited a section of California code that states that recount costs “may include, but are not limited to, additional supervision hours, security guard hours, the elections official’s staff hours, space rental, transportation of ballots and materials and administrative costs.”
That empowers Cano to determine what costs are necessary, according to Kraut.
Additionally, the code section says that the recount requester must cover all costs created by the recount.
“As long as the elections official justifies costs imposed ... the the elections official must collect that entire amount from the requester,” Kraut said.
Cano said she supports Kraut’s decision.
“As the elections official, it is my responsibility to determine what is necessary to conduct the recount in a safe, efficient and transparent manner,” Cano wrote in an email to The Tribune on Wednesday. “All costs that were charged to Ms. Stebbens were in compliant with the laws and regulations governed by the state.”
Stebbens said she was “disappointed” about the ruling, and may appeal the judge’s decision — as she still disagrees with paying for copies of the recount guidelines, county counsel hours and staff benefits packages.
She said that she thinks the Elections Office overcharged her for its services.
“Any person coming forward should be able to have transparency in what occurred in that election, and they’re making so onerous (to request a recount),” Stebbens said.