Judge says LA County election officials do not have to locate ballots for free in Measure A recount decision

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has upheld a tentative ruling denying a Long Beach community group’s request that the court step in and require county election officials to locate and sort Measure A voter ballots free of charge so a hand-recount can continue.

Judge Mitchell Beckloff issued a tentative ruling Aug. 13 denying the Long Beach Reform Coalition’s request, and after hearing oral arguments from the county and the coalition’s legal teams, issued a final order upholding his initial decision.

Beckloff ruled that the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Clerk Dean Logan acted within the law by passing on recount costs that approached $240,000 to the coalition because the law stipulates that the costs of recounts are to be paid by the requestors. The sum would have been most expensive in county recount history.

Measure A, a 1% sales-tax increase that was permanently extended by voters in March 2020, was approved by a 16-vote margin.

“The notion respondent complied with the law in connection with the Measure A recount undermines any claim respondent acted arbitrarily,” Beckloff wrote in his final order.

The Reform Coalition filed its suit against the county after a brief recount attempt using digital versions of voters’ ballots after county election officials notified the coalition that it would be charged for the time county workers needed to locate each Long Beach ballot cast in the March election.

A new $300 million voting system was used for the first time on a large scale during the March 2020 election that allowed residents of LA County to vote for an 11-day period leading up to election night and cast those votes from one of about 1,000 voting locations across the county.

The new rules were part of the statewide Voters Choice Act, which sought to expand voting access in an attempt to boost turnout. Beckloff agreed with the county’s assertion that the increased costs brought on by allowing voters to cast ballots at vote centers rather than at pre-determined precincts was a result of it following state law, not the design of the voting system.

He added that the Reform Coalition’s argument that the county did not account for this issue while designing its voting system exceeded the scope of their original petition. Beckloff also said the petition failed to provide a  “bright line dividing a constitutional and unconstitutional recount cost.”

Ian Patton, who filed the suit on behalf of the Reform Coalition said that he needs to discuss the order with his lawyers but said that he would like to appeal the decision.

“Im definitely leaning in that direction as strongly as possible,” Patton said Friday. “I just found the whole thing [the order] outrageous.”

Patton said he felt Beckloff failed to see what his team felt were clear arguments and said that an appeal could come with support from other voting rights groups, which have expressed interest in the case because of the wide-ranging affects it could have on future elections.

Having a paper trail is important for recounts, Patton said, and this decision could make it harder to attain them.

“It turns out there is a paper trail but you can’t do anything with it,” Patton said. “Unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.