San Luis Obispo County clerk recorder loses another legal battle

March 24, 2024

SLO County Clerk Recorder Elaina Cano


A judge on Thursday denied a motion to set aside a ruling that the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office overcharged a citizen for a recount of the 2022 county supervisor race between incumbent Bruce Gibson and Dr. Bruce Jones.

In January, Superior Court Judge Rita Federman determined Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano charged $5,088 for overtime hours for herself and two other staff members, even though her office never paid those costs. The court determined Cano overcharged for the recount and that instead of Darcia Stebbens owing the county money, the county owes Stebbens $640.

Following her loss, Cano filed a motion to correct or set aside Judge Federman’s ruling arguing that neither party raised the issue of overtime hours for salaried staff. Through the motion, Cano sought a rehearing.

However, during her cross-examination of Cano and another county staffer, Stebbens had raised the issue of overtime hours, according to Judge Federman’s March 21 ruling denying Cano’s motion.

After Gibson defeated Jones by a mere 13 votes in the Nov. 2022 election, Darcia Stebbens requested the recount. Stebbens then terminated the recount after less than a fourth of the district’s precincts had been counted, noting issues with transparency and costs.

Before the recount was halted, Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano agreed to count one ballot that her staff had failed to properly tally. The contested ballot, however, did not end up being tallied in the recount.

After Stebbens had paid the county $48,898 in estimated charges, Cano sent her a final bill. Stebbens refused to pay $4,448 in charges, alleging Cano had failed to provide itemized bills and documents requested with the recount. Cano then filed a small claims court suit against Stebbens, which Cano won.

Stebbens appealed, and the case moved to the Superior Court.

During the 2023 trial, Deputy County Counsel Ann Duggan argued that the county needed to charge for all cost related to the recount to avoid “frivolous recounts.”

“We were willing to pay for any additional costs the county incurred as per the election code regulations,” Stebbens said. “This would be a reimbursement of costs, not where the county would be making a profit by charging us for costs the county already incurred for full-time salaried elections staff.”

Even though Stebbens pointed out multiple issues in which she asserted Cano overcharged her, for example a charge for a court filing that did not occur, the judge said she lacked the jurisdiction to consider Stebbens’ claim for reimbursement of additional false charges.


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What is the cost to the taxpayer of defending a $5,000 claim.

Exactly. That misdirected conspiracy theory-driven recount was a tremendous waste of money for everyone involved. Fortunately Ms Cano was able to recover most of the expenses, saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Thank you!

Ms Cano was elected by majority of voters in a fair election. Most of the criticism of her work since being elected is coming from people who wish to derail the will of the majority of voters in our community. Supporting Ms Cano equals supporting democracy and fair elections and ongoing efforts to save taxpayer money and fight against election deniers and misguided conspiracy theorists and unprincipled rabble rousers. Do the research. Learn the facts.

It seems it is needs to be asked, why is questioning of elections results a recent activity? For years, up until recently, election results were seldom questioned, even when the results were available election evening, counting happened through to midnight if not longer, as needed. So what has changed? Taking days/weeks to count votes hasn’t seemed to reduce the questioning, and even possibly increased it. Yes there may be more votes to count but there has to be a way to return election integrity to what we had until just recently.

Didn’t more people vote in person at their neighborhood polling places thirty or forty years ago? Now there is far more vote-by-mail participation in elections than before. Perhaps due to an aging population or because of the convenience of voting at home, people are just not going to the polls like they did years ago. In the General Election of November 8, 2022, just 8.6% of the votes cast in the County Supervisor District 2 race between Gibson and Dr. Bruce Jones were dropped at a polling place, with 91.4% being vote by mail. The mayoral races in Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande were even more divergent with 93.4% of ballots cast by mail in the M.B. race won by Carla Wixom and over 95.4% ballots cast by mail in the A.G. contest.

I assume it is much more time consuming to process vote by mail ballots since each envelope must be verified for an authentic signature/date/postmark, opened, and then the ballot is unfolded and inspected to verify it can be run through a tabulation machine. I’m sure the process can be explained better and in detail by the folks who work in the Clerk-Recorder’s Office. If we want to get faster election results, perhaps we should return to in-person voting and rely less on vote-by-mail.

Some very good points, perhaps its time to think about going to “mail in ballots” by request only, not only will help judge the number of ballots that might be mailed in but would certainly save lots on money on postage and printing. Maybe time to also have a deadline for mailing ballots say a week before election day, giving plenty of time to recieve and count those ballots prior to election day so results can be released on election day or shortly after. Just a few thoughts but it seems just doing what we have being doing for the last fews years may not be the best way, is causes more issues and needs some changes.

In fact, Ms Cano used the judicial process to save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars and prove in a court of law that our elections are fair and being handled correctly. Thank you Ms Cano.