Update: June 15, 12:35 p.m.
Attorneys for Supervisor Lynn Compton filed a lawsuit this morning against Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong in SLO County Superior Court, asking the court to bar Gong from processing ballots for 4th District Supervisor with voter signatures that did not match records and were not reconciled by the voter before 5 p.m. on June 13.
Gong is currently allowing voters until the end of ballot canvasing to resolve non-matching signatures, which Compton attorneys Stewart Jenkins and Charles Bell Jr. allege is in violation of election code. They contend voters are only allowed eight days to remedy signatures issues after the election, after which their ballot has to be tossed, according to the court documents obtained by New Times.
Gong told New Times that 35 ballots are in dispute. As of the morning of June 15, Compton held an 81-vote lead over challenger candidate Jimmy Paulding with about 1,000 ballots left to count.
Compton’s lawsuit requests “immediate action” by the court as an “election matter entitled to calendar preference.”
The court filing follows a June 13 back-and-forth between Compton attorneys and Gong, in which Gong restated his intention to continue processing the ballots in question.
“I will continue to accept comparison signature verifications until all votes countywide are tallied,” Gong wrote back to Bell and Jenkins on June 13. "No time limitation is stated [for accepting comparison signatures in election code]. Section 3000 mandates that the vote by mail provisions 'shall be liberally construed in favor of the vote by mail voter.'"
Gong did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
If the 4th District San Luis Obispo County supervisor race between Lynn Compton and Jimmy Paulding ends in a tie, it could be decided by a coin flip. Or a card draw. Or a straw pull. Or a recount.
But they're not there yet. About 1,000 ballots are still left to count, as of New Times' press time, in the election to determine South County's next supervisor and a swing vote on the Board of Supervisors.
- File Photos By Jayson Mellom
- DOWN TO THE WIRE The race for District 4 SLO County supervisor is still too close to call as of June 13. Incumbent Lynn Compton is ahead of challenger Jimmy Paulding by 81 votes, with about 1,000 ballots left to count.
With 17,515 votes recorded, Compton, a conservative-leaning business owner from Nipomo, has an 81-vote edge on Paulding, a liberal-leaning attorney from Arroyo Grande.
The next round of ballot counting was planned to take place on June 15 at 2 p.m. in the SLO County Clerk's Office.
"We knew this race would be close," said Bob Nelson, a consultant for the Compton campaign, "but I don't think anyone thought it'd be this close."
County election officials spent most of the week of June 11 processing outstanding ballots, which include late mail-in ballots, provisional ballots, ballots submitted under conditional voter registration, and damaged ballots. Due to the technicalities involved, Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said the final stretch of counting is a slow and painstaking process.
"It kind of comes to a screeching halt at this juncture," Gong told New Times.
Representatives from both the Compton and Paulding campaigns are present in the Clerk's Office observing the ballot processing and counting. As ballots are processed, the campaigns are contacting voters whose signatures were missing or unverifiable, offering to help remedy the issues for their votes to count.
"Both campaigns have been obtaining signed forms on behalf of the voter," Gong said. "That's taking place as we speak."
On June 12, Paulding sent an email blast to supporters requesting more donations to defray the campaign costs of the prolonged election, indicating they could surpass $20,000. Paulding told New Times he would consider asking the county for a recount if Compton's lead held.
"I think it's certainly a possibility, and I'm prepared for it," Paulding said. "I haven't come up with what number [of vote separation] would be a threshold."
Any registered voter in SLO County can ask for a recount, but they would be obligated to finance it unless the result flipped—in which case the county has to fund it. A recount must be requested within five days of Gong certifying the election.
Gong noted that the winner is certain to be decided within the context of the primary and won't be sent to the general election—barring a literal tie.
In the case of a tie, the procedure to break it is decided by the local election official, per election code. Gong recalled, with a chuckle, overseeing a tied election eight years ago between two candidates for the San Miguel Community Services District board of directors. The winner was determined by a random drawing of cards—the highest card won.
"I shuffled the cards five times, cut it twice, and we spread all the cards out on the table between them," Gong said. "They both drew their cards and one was the higher number. Maybe that's what we're going to do if we do have a tie vote. The card one was pretty good." Δ