In a highly unusual action, the City of San Clemente has requested a recount of the outcome of Measure OO, which would have hiked the city’s hotel bed tax from 10% to 13%. The recount will be paid for using public funds – also highly unusual.
The city council had hoped to garner $500,000 to one million dollars in annual tax revenue from Measure OO, which lost by a mere 8 votes. At last night council meeting, newly re-elected Councilman Chris Hamm made the motion to request a recount, which was seconded by Councilman Tim Brown. The recount request was approved on a 3-1-1 vote, with Hamm, Brown and Councilwoman Ward in support, Councilwoman Lori Donchak opposed, and Councilman Robert “Bob” Baker abstaining.
OC Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said he was contacted by the San Clemente city clerk, who originally wanted to pay for entire recount up-front. The recount will cost the city $2,400 plus about $5,000 in preparatory costs, and will take approximately five to six days to complete – for a total bill of $17,000 to 19,400. A hand-count would be even more expensive, approaching $40,000. However, the city ultimately decided to proceed on a pay-per-day basis and will bring the Registrar a check tomorrow morning.
The ROV issued this statement a few minutes ago:
December 7, 2016 – Pursuant to California Elections Code section 15628 the Orange County Registrar of Voters will be conducting a recount of the ballots cast in the 2016 November 8th General Election, Measure OO – City of San Clemente, Increase in “Hotel” Guest Tax contest.
The election was conducted on November 8, 2016. The recount process will begin at the Registrar of Voters office, 1300 South Grand Avenue, Building C, Santa Ana, on Monday, December 12, 2016 beginning at 9 a.m. Details on the recount status will be located on our website at ocvote.com.
When asked by OC Daily if he knew of any example of a city requesting and using public funds to pay for a recount of an election result, OC Registrar Neal Kelley said he did not.
Odds of Success Are Slim to None
In response to a councilmember query about the success/failure rate of recounts in Orange County, City Clerk Joanne Baade said that according to ROV Kelley, there have been 17 recounts since 2000 and only one changed the outcome of the election – the 2007 special supervisorial election that now-Senator Janet Nguyen won on the recount. However, Baade cautioned that election laws are now more permissive, and that recount wouldn’t have changed the election outcome if it were held under current rules.
Donchak said she would oppose a recount given the likelihood the city would be spending thousands of dollars with little hope of changing the election result. That prompted Councilman Chris Hamm to interject:
“Dude. Listen. Hey – I’m a gamblin’ man. The percentage that nine votes are gonna be different – I say it’s worth a shot.”
The consideration of requesting a recount was added to the agenda at the beginning of the council meeting, with Hamm making the motion. According to the city clerk, the Brown Act allows items to be added in such a manner if it spurred by information coming into the city’s possession after the agenda has been published and if action must be taken prior to the next council meeting.
One question that went un-asked and therefore un-answered by any councilmember: is it just and fair to use the tax dollars of the 50% of the San Clemente electorate that opposed Measure OO to try to overturn their judgment?
Another question: is this even legal? State law prohibits the use of public funds for electioneering: it would have been illegal for San Clemente to spend tax dollars to urge voters to vote “yes” on Measure OO. Last night, councilmembers were very clear their intent in pursuing recount is to flip the result to approval of Measure OO. In both cases, the city is spending money to achieve a specific election outcome. Since there appears to be no substantive difference between the two actions, why would the former be illegal but the latter instance legal?
A handy test of the expressly political nature of this action: if Measure OO had passed by 8 votes — or even 1 vote – does anyone think the city council would request a recount?
Finally, what kind of precedent does i set for government to use taxpayer money to change election outcomes with which it finds unfavorable?