Recounting the votes shouldn’t be so expensive

The cost of recounts in California elections has become unreasonably high, and it’s a problem that the Legislature should address, because public confidence in the accuracy of vote totals is essential to the functioning of democratic government.

A recount in Congressional District 16, covering parts of the Bay Area counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo, is costing more than $300,000. Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is in the lead, about 8,000 votes ahead of Assemblymember Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who finished in a tie, sending all three candidates to the general election.

None of the candidates requested a recount, but Jonathan Padilla, an individual who previously worked as a campaign staffer for Liccardo, filed a recount request. The requestor of a recount is responsible for paying the costs of it, and must put down daily deposits of the amounts estimated by the county for each day’s work.

Santa Clara County, where about 80% of the 182,135 ballots were cast in the race, estimated that the recount will cost $12,000 per day and take one to two weeks. San Mateo initially estimated the daily rate at $5,000 and then increased the estimate to $12,000 per day. Padilla is paying the costs from a new Super PAC called Count the Vote, and the donors are unknown. Equally concerning is that recounts now cost more than some campaigns.

In 2020, the Long Beach Reform Coalition sought a recount of a city tax measure that had passed by 16 votes. Based on the 2020 “Requesting a Recount” pamphlet published by the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters and a time estimate from county officials, the recount was expected to take three days and cost about $33,000.

But the day before the recount, the county informed the group that it first would have to pay more than $100,000 for 16 teams of county employees to spend 16 days retrieving the paper ballots. Alternatively, they could pay for a recount of scans of ballots, which was both expensive and slow because of the need for computers, monitors and tech workers.

The higher costs resulted from new procedures under the Voters Choice Act enacted in 2016 together with new ballot-marking and ballot-scanning technology mandated by the state in 2019. Paper ballots from vote centers countywide were mixed up and stored off-site, unsorted, in thousands of boxes, while recounting scans of ballots required monitors and tech workers.

After three days of counting scans at a cost of $21,000, the Long Beach group had gotten through only 7,000 of the 100,000 ballots. The group went to court for relief, but a judge ruled that the county had no obligation to make recounts affordable.

To reduce these unreasonable costs, the Legislature should require counties to sort and store paper ballots by precinct as part of their routine election operations. It doesn’t increase confidence that lawmakers instead passed Assembly Bill 969, a law generally prohibiting hand-counting of ballots in elections, and is now considering Senate Bill 1441, which would for the first time require the proponent of an initiative, referendum or recall to pay the costs of reviewing signatures on petitions that were rejected by county officials. The costs would be similar to the cost of recounts.

Voters, and not just Super PACs, should be able to verify that election officials have done their work accurately.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *