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Hand recount requested in 2nd District supervisor race

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San Luis Obispo County is gearing up for another hand recount of a county supervisor race.

COUNT IT AGAIN Darcia Stebbens speaks to the SLO County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 13 about her request for a recount of the 2nd District supervisor election, with candidate Bruce Jones observing. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • COUNT IT AGAIN Darcia Stebbens speaks to the SLO County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 13 about her request for a recount of the 2nd District supervisor election, with candidate Bruce Jones observing.

Paso Robles resident Darcia Stebbens filed her second request for a recount in as many elections, asking the county clerk-recorder to manually retally the 2nd District supervisor contest between Bruce Gibson and Bruce Jones.

Stebbens submitted the paperwork to the clerk-recorder on Dec. 12—five days after a final election count showed Gibson, the incumbent, ahead by 13 votes, or 0.06 percent.

In the June primary election, Stebbens called for a hand recount of the 4th District supervisor contest between Jimmy Paulding and Lynn Compton. That did not change a vote and cost roughly $53,000, but Stebbens said that she remains committed to scrutinizing the vote-by-mail model and Dominion voting machines.

"We are being asked time and time again to trust the machines," Stebbens said during public comment at a Dec. 13 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. "I happen to have faith and trust in the human brain to be able to look at a ballot and know what that vote is for. I think if some of you have seen what I have seen in the primary recount, you would also agree that we need many, many changes to our system currently in process."

When reached by phone, Jones declined to comment or take questions from New Times. At its Dec. 13 meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to "declare" the election results—a ministerial action required by state law.

Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold dissented in the vote for the second time this year (she also voted against declaring the results of the June primary election).

"Right now, there's a recount in process, and I'm just going to say I'm not comfortable declaring the results of this election at this time," said Arnold, who endorsed Jones and donated to his campaign.

Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano told New Times that she's currently working with elections staff and county counsel to review the recount request and make preparations. She is required to start the process no later than Monday, Dec. 19, contingent on Stebbens paying a deposit and then continuing to fund the recount.

County officials are first reviewing an extensive list of election materials that Stebbens requested to examine ahead of the recount. They range from the election's uncounted and unvoted ballots, to the full names of all precinct inspectors and workers, to documentation on a "spreadsheet error" that added 327 provisional ballots to count, among other items.

THIRTEEN VOTES A recount in the tight race for 2nd District supervisor between Bruce Jones (left) and Bruce Gibson could start on Dec. 19. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRUCE JONES AND BRUCE GIBSON
  • Photos Courtesy Of Bruce Jones And Bruce Gibson
  • THIRTEEN VOTES A recount in the tight race for 2nd District supervisor between Bruce Jones (left) and Bruce Gibson could start on Dec. 19.

During the canvass, Jones' supporters raised concerns about alleged instances of poll workers giving incorrect instructions to voters who wanted to surrender their mail-in ballots and vote in person. That confusion reportedly caused some voters to submit vote-by-mail ballots without envelopes or signatures, which then wouldn't be counted.

Cano said that in the 2nd District, two mail-in ballots were submitted without envelopes.

"I wasn't there [at the polls] in all fairness ... but in total, countywide, we only received 10 vote-by-mail ballots with no envelope," she said. "I don't know how those 10 came to be. But 10 out of our total is not as significant of a number than what the rumor has it."

Cano added that the elections code dictates the election materials that are considered "relevant" to a recount and said that some of Stebbens' requests go beyond that and will not be shared.

"There are certain requests she has here that are not considered relevant materials," Cano said. "That's why I'm still working with county counsel to develop a response to some of this."

The Jones campaign has 30 days after the date of election certification, Dec. 7, to file some sort of challenge to the results in court. Nothing had been filed as of New Times' press time.

If the recount moves forward, Cano said that it will be conducted in an outside facility—not the SLO County Government Center. The main county building lacks adequate space to conduct an expeditious manual recount, Cano said, which was why the 4th District recount in June lasted about five weeks.

"In June, we had two recount boards consistently," Cano said. "If we did four boards with four people each, then the time is going to be cut in half. We still have to find a facility we can put everybody. The biggest room we have in the [county] building can only fit three recount boards."

Cano said it's important that the recount be done quickly with the holidays approaching and a special election for a Paso Robles school board seat now looming in March 2023. But the effort will be expensive.

"If we have to rent a facility, hire security, do the transportation, and add more people, it will certainly cost more than $20,000 or $30,000, I'd imagine," she said.

Meanwhile, Stebbens emphasized to the Board of Supervisors that she is as concerned about election fraud as she is about accurate ballot counting.

"A recount is counting a cashdrawer: If you have $1,000 in the cash drawer and $300 of it is monopoly money or counterfeit money, it still counts as $1,000," Stebbens said. Δ

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