A Republican candidate for state legislature requested a recount of Boulder County’s election results last week in an effort to give election integrity activists an opportunity to examine concerns about how the election was run.
But now Ellyn Hilliard, who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Jonathan Singer for state representative from District 11, has withdrawn her request after being told by Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall’s office that the recount would cost her nearly $28,000. (Candidates requesting recounts must pay for them unless the recount is automatically triggered by margin of victory of 0.5 percent or less.)
That dollar figure is about twice as high as it should be, according to Andrew Cole of the secretary of state’s office. And Boulder County canvass board members, who would have to do the recount, estimated the pricetag of a four-day recount at $4,770.
But Deputy Clerk Molly Tayer told Boulder Weekly that the cost estimate is accurate, given the amount of overtime pay that would have had to be shelled out over three days to conduct the recount before the deadline.
Hilliard acknowledges that her motivation behind asking for ballots to be retallied is not to reverse the results (Singer won by a significant margin, more than 5,000 votes). She says she requested the recount after learning about claims of election irregularities from members of the canvass board.
“I submitted the recount request so that the canvass board could gain some transparency,” she told BW.
A four-person majority on the canvass board, two Republicans and two American Constitution Party members, began meeting without Hall’s blessing in late September and have been at odds with the clerk about the extent of the board’s authority ever since.
In her Dec. 7 request to the secretary of state’s office for a recount, Hilliard cites the canvass board’s $4,770 cost estimate and notes that Douglas County paid $800 for a 21,000-ballot recount after the primary election last summer. Using that cost model in Boulder County, which had about 180,000 ballots, would generate a recount pricetag of about $7,200.
But Hall’s office said the recount would require $27,777, an amount that Cole says “was a little too high, to put it generously,” and represents “about twice as much as the historical average that counties have charged.” The secretary of state’s office asked Hall’s office to break down the costs further, but Hilliard decided to drop the request, realizing she could never raise even half that amount from her campaign supporters before the deadline. She suggests that there might be political motivation behind recent actions by the clerk, who is a Democrat.
“We really wanted to be able to tell potential candidates that everything’s great and above-board at the election office, it’s nonpartisan, that they’re going to help you out just as much as they’d help the Democratic candidate, but I’m not so sure that’s true,” Hilliard says. “I don’t understand, with their advantage, why they need to do it. I would think they would want to be as transparent and above-board and cooperative with all the other parties as possible.”
“I really think they were price-gouging,” says canvass board member Mary Eberle of the American Constitution Party. “You really have to be a multimillionaire to buy election integrity.”
Aspen-based election integrity activist Marilyn Marks of the Citizen Center describes it this way: “Obama and Pete Coors are going to be the only ones who could afford a recount.”
But Tayer defends the cost estimate, citing the 120 hours of overtime pay that would have been needed to do the recount before the Dec. 13 deadline.
When asked whether the high cost was intended to discourage Hilliard from pursuing the recount, Tayer replies, “No, this was our ability to communicate what we consider to be really accurate costs for what it would take to get it done within three days and not charge the taxpayers of Boulder for an optional recount. … If we had all the time in the world, and could sit down and task it across days, it would have been probably a little less.”
Regarding the canvass board’s low estimate, Tayer says she doesn’t know where their bid came from.
“I don’t know how much experience they have running an elections division,” she says, adding that she hopes there can now be some closure on a tumultuous local election season. “I think it’d be good for us to all close out this election, celebrate how well it went, and move on.”