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SLO County woman disputes ballot recount costs, refuses to pay full bill. She’s being sued

The woman behind the ballot recount of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors District 2 race refused to pay her full bill — so the county’s top elections official sued for the remaining balance.

As the person who requested the recount, San Miguel resident Darcia Stebbens is required by state law to pay for the full cost: $53,346, in this case.

Stebbens still owes the county $4,448.

Before she pays it, however, she’s asked the county for an invoice showing line-item costs for the recount.

SLO County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano provided Stebbens with a list of staff hours spent on the recount, as well as a list of materials used and their costs.

Stebbens said the list was not sufficient.

The San Luis Obispo County Counsel’s Office was “unaware” of regulations that require the county to provide a “detailed invoice of the costs of conducing the recount” to the requester, the office wrote in a Jan. 27 email to Stebbens. County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano shared the email with The Tribune.

“I have made a reasonable request, and I have not received a breakdown as to what costs are included,” Stebbens told The Tribune. “I don’t want to pay on something where I haven’t received a breakdown as to those costs.”

On May 1, Cano filed suit against Stebbens in small claims court for the remaining balance.

Who won SLO County Board of Supervisors race?

About a week after the November election was finalized, Stebbens requested a recount for the District 2 supervisor race, which pitted incumbent Supervisor Bruce Gibson against retired orthopedic surgeon Bruce Jones, on behalf of the Bruce Jones campaign, she previously told The Tribune.

She ended the manual recount early, on Dec. 29, after election staff tallied about 20% of the ballots.

Election staff counted six of the 29 precincts in District 2, and the new count was identical to the original tally — except for one extra ballot that observers discovered and added to the tally.

Gibson defeated Jones for the seat by 13 votes, according to the final election results.

This wasn’t Stebbens’ first recount.

After the June primary election, Stebbens requested a recount for the District 4 Board of Supervisors race. The recount’s results were identical to the original ballot count, confirming Jimmy Paulding as the new District 4 supervisor.

The District 4 recount cost $61,260, which Stebbens paid in full, Cano said.

Observers Darcia Stebbens, left, Richard Patten and Sherry Martinez watch ballots being counted at the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s office on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
Observers Darcia Stebbens, left, Richard Patten and Sherry Martinez watch ballots being counted at the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s office on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

Why won’t SLO County woman pay full recount costs?

California code requires the recount requester to reimburse all costs “that would not have been incurred but for the requester’s particular recount request,” including staff time, security guards, space rental and even the cost of transporting ballots.

Jan. 25 was the county’s original deadline for recount reimbursement, Cano said.

Stebbens had only paid the county $45,979 by that date, so the county extended the deadline to Feb. 3, according to Cano.

Stebbens asked the county for an invoice showing line-item costs for the recount, but the county refused.

The county gave Stebbens a record of staff time spent on the recount as well as a list of materials used and their costs, according to Cano.

Cano calculated the recount cost based on “time coded per employee plus their benefits provided to me by the Auditor-Controller’s Office once payroll was completed, copying costs for documents used/supplied ... and supplies based off the amount charged by the specific vendor,” she wrote in a court document.

“The outstanding recount costs should not be borne by the county’s taxpayers,” county counsel wrote in its email to Stebbens.

Elaina Cano answers a question as the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors interviewed two finalists for the interim clerk-recorder job on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The board selected Elaina Cano for the post.
Elaina Cano answers a question as the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors interviewed two finalists for the interim clerk-recorder job on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The board selected Elaina Cano for the post.

On Feb. 3, Stebbens paid the county another $2,918, according to Cano.

The remaining $4,448 didn’t pencil out, according to Stebbens’ own calculations of staff and material costs, she said.

“I’m given a number, but I don’t have the details of how they arrived at that number,” Stebbens said.

The county gave Stebbens another chance to pay the remaining balance on Feb. 23.

Stebbens refused, so Cano filed a lawsuit to recover the remaining funds.

Stebbens and county representatives will appear at San Luis Obispo County Superior Court’s Grover Beach courtroom on July 14 to settle the matter.

“I have funds,” Stebbens said. “If they can present me with an invoice that has sufficient information, then I’ll pay it.”

Those funds include personal funds, along with donations from community members and the Bruce Jones campaign, she said.

Who paid for the recount?

Stebbens formed the SLO County Citizen Action Team in July. According to campaign finance documents, the organization received a total of $117,973 from July 15 to Dec. 31, and spent $107,350.

From July to December, the team paid the SLO County Clerk-Recorder’s Office $61,260 for the District 4 recount, and $45,979 for the District 2 recount, according to the documents.

The Bruce Jones Campaign was a premier donor to the SLO County Citizens Action Team, giving $35,500 from July 15 to Dec. 31.

The 2020 Debbie Arnold for Supervisor campaign donated $2,000 to the group, while San Luis Obispo County Republican Party Chairman Randall Jordan donated $1,000.

Frequent donors to the SLO County Citizen Action Team include Stebbens and Richard Patten, an Arroyo Grade resident who drew a controversial county district map recently thrown out by the SLO County Board of Supervisors.