Ken Carlson

October 17, 2013

County Pulse: County leaders settle dispute over charges for recounting ballots of Riverbank election

Stanislaus County leaders have quietly dismissed the balance owed for the recount of the Riverbank mayoral election of 2012.

County Pulse

County government and health issues in Central Valley

Stanislaus County leaders have dismissed the balance owed for the recount of the Riverbank mayoral election of 2012. County officials entered an agreement last month with former mayor Virginia Madueño to dismiss a remaining balance of $3,250, with neither side admitting fault.

After Madueño lost by 53 votes to Richard O’Brien last year, one of her supporters asked for the Dec. 10 recount, which was stopped after five hours because the results were not changing. Madueño was stunned when county elections sent her campaign an invoice six weeks later showing a $7,817 balance owed in addition to the $2,400 deposit paid the day of the recount.

The Registrar of Voters’ total charges for counting about 500 ballots was $10,217, or $20 per ballot. The person who requests a recount is expected to pay for it, but the invoiced costs tend to vary from county to county in California. And critics have suggested that county registrars arbitrarily impose recount charges.

In March, County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan said Madueño’s campaign was billed for actual costs of preparing for and conducting the recount. After some debate in the media, the county made a concession in April and waived the costs for Lundrigan’s time, reducing the balance about $4,000.

Madueño’s camp continued to maintain the charges were excessive, and the unpaid bill was turned over to the treasurer-tax collector’s revenue recovery division for collection. County Counsel John Doering said Madueño made two payments totaling $625 in August “under protest,” which reserved her right to recover the payments through a court ruling.

Rather than being subject to a lawsuit, “we felt it was easier to resolve it,” and a settlement deal was presented to county supervisors, Doering said. The county accepted the $3,024 (the $2,400 deposit, plus Madueño’s two checks) as payment in full for the recount.

San Francisco surgeon John Maa referenced the Stanislaus County dispute in a letter last month to Sacramento County seeking to recover $9,730 in contested charges for Proposition 29 recount costs. Maa reportedly spent $250,000 of his own money asking counties to recount ballots for Proposition 29, the proposed $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes, which was defeated last year by fewer than 30,000 votes.

Sacramento County charged what amounted to $3.86 per ballot for the recount there. According to Maa’s calculation, that was compared with 29 cents per ballot in Orange County and $1.41 per ballot in Los Angeles County. Tobacco tax supporters persuaded Los Angeles County to recalculate its original recount fees, reducing the amount by more than $71,000, Maa’s letter said.

Those who requested the recount in Sacramento County thought they had good cause. Maa cited the county’s formal “statement of vote” after the June 2012 election that revealed mathematical errors, duplicated vote tallies and voter turnout above 100 percent in some areas.

Recounts are most often considered in Stanislaus County when small-city elections are decided by a handful of votes. Right now, there are no uniform standards for setting recount charges in California and its 58 counties.

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