By JOSH FRIEDMAN and KAREN VELIE
A recount of ballots in the District 2 San Luis Obispo County supervisorial race in which incumbent Supervisor Bruce Gibson defeated challenger Bruce Jones by just 13 votes was officially requested on Monday afternoon.
Paso Robles resident Darcia Stebbens submitted a letter to County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano requesting a recount and ballot inspection for the District 2 election. Stebbens requested the recount on behalf of Jones, but not necessarily at his request, she stated.
Stebbens is the same person who requested a recount earlier this year on behalf of outgoing Supervisor Lynn Compton, who lost her District 4 race to Arroyo Grande Councilman Jimmy Paulding. Elections officials conducted a hand recount of the ballots in the District 4 race, which produced the exact same tally as the initial count that was done by machines. Paulding defeated Compton by 639 votes.
In that recount, the clerk recorder refused every request for a challenge and also refused to provide documents and information, Stebbens said. Because of issues at the last recount and throughout the election, Stebbens will have an attorney on hand to deal with conflicts with the Clerk Recorder’s Office.
In the District 2 race, Gibson received 11,722 votes, or 50.03%. Jones garnered 11,709 votes, or 49.97%.
A recount is unlikely to change the result in the District 2 race unless uncounted votes are tallied or challenges are made and accepted. There were hundreds of mail-in-ballots that arrived after the cutoff date, which were not counted.
In addition, several poll workers ordered voters to turn their mail-in-ballots at the polls without the required envelopes, which led to multiple ballots not being tallied. More than a dozen voters contend their ballots were not counted because of human error at the clerk’s office.
The Clerk Recorder informed the Tribune that only two ballots were received without envelopes at the polls in District 2, along with 11 mail-in-ballots without signatures, 112 ballots that were mailed late or received after the cutoff date, and 93 ballots with challenged signatures.
Stebbens is requesting an inspection of the ballots and a hand recount, along with relevant materials including unvoted ballots; duplicate ballots; ballot envelopes; vote-by-mail ballots without envelopes; ballot envelopes with missing or non-matching signatures; ballots postmarked after Nov. 8; and ballots received after Nov. 15.
The Paso Robles resident also requested documents relating to more than 300 provisional ballots the SLO County Clerk-Recorder’s Office discovered in late November after ordering election observers to leave the viewing area, an apparent violation of state law.
In response to a federal law enforcement request, the SLO County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit conducted an inquiry into concerns about the clerk reporting an additional 332 provisional ballots several weeks after the election, which at the time county staff claimed were found in a cabinet at the clerk’s office, Stebbens said.
However, Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano explained it was a spread sheet error and that no new ballots were found. Shen then defended her removal of observers that day.
“There were no provisional ballots that were mysteriously discovered and added to the count or secretly produced after observers were ‘dismissed,’ ” Cano wrote in her response to the district attorney’s office.
The District Attorney’s Office did not find evidence that would contradict Cano’s explanation regarding the 332 ballots and has closed that portion of the investigation, according to a press release.
Cano also argued that she had a legal right to bar observers from watching the processing of provisional ballots.
“Moreover, observers are not entitled by law to observe the processing of provisional ballots, which includes inputting confidential voter information that is provided by the voter into the Elections Management System to determine eligibility,” Cano wrote in her response. “Observers are only entitled to observe the canvass of the vote-by-mail ballots.”
The District Attorney’s Office did not agree.
“I want to clarify with you and your staff whether observers can watch the ‘processing’ of provisional ballots,” Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Jorgensen responded to Cano. “I want to clarify that when these provisional ballots are processed tomorrow, observers will be permitted to be present and observe this process in the same manner as the mail-in ballots.”