Amarillo city officials recently outlined the cost of the first election recount in the city’s history, stating how much of the cost would be the responsibility of Claudette Smith, as the person who requested the recount, and how much would be the responsibility of the city and, subsequently, taxpayers.
According to previous reports, Smith requested a recount to be conducted in the mayor’s race after the May 1 election, which ultimately re-elected incumbent Ginger Nelson to the position for two more years. The recount resulted in an overall net change of 10 votes from the original canvassed results from Potter and Randall counties, including an increase of two votes for both Nelson and Smith.
The recount process cost $11,874.50, according to documents received by the Globe-News from the city. Of the total, Smith is required to pay $5,978.64, the total assessable costs related to the recount, outlined in Texas Election Code section 215.002. After putting down a $4,500 deposit, Smith still owes the city $1,478.64 as of Tuesday.
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City Manager Jared Miller said in early May while outlining the recount process that Smith would have to pay for the recount and all costs associated with it unless the result from the election changed.
However, according to Texas Election Code section 215.002, Smith was responsible for paying for these parts of the recount:
• Cost of the Recount Committee, which consisted of 43 individuals including one recount coordinator, six recount committee members and 36 recount staff members ranging from $12 to $15 an hour. This was reported as $4,785.48.
• Cost of the printing process of the ballots in the recount. This was reported as $1,193.16.
The remaining balance, which is $5,895.86, will have to be paid for by the city. Miller said these costs included security with the transfer of ballots, food and coffee for the recount committee and the use of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. These funds will be coming out of the elections budget through the city secretary’s office.
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“It’s being subsidized through the city, through the taxpayers, however you want to look at that,” Miller said. “It’s not being recovered. We cannot assess that to the applicant per Texas Election Code. It is a cost that is not being recovered.”
Overall, the cost for the recount was what the city expected. Miller said city officials had estimated it would cost somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000.
But with it being the first time they conducted a recount, Miller said city officials were not aware of some of the stipulations in the Texas Election Code.
“We had never really experienced this. The applicant is responsible for the cost of the recount as it’s stipulated in Texas Election Code,” Miller said. “Now, and this is probably due to the first time we have ever done it, we didn’t know exactly what things the Texas Election Code would allow or would require the applicant to pay for.”
The overall invoice for the recount was more than Smith anticipated, she told the Globe-News Tuesday afternoon.
“You have to remember not that long ago when all of this came about, the city was predicting it was going to cost $100,000 to do a recount. Here we are with an $11,000 invoice. In my opinion, that’s just… the city’s bad spending habits and how they calculate things,” Smith said. “It’s definitely more than I anticipated but at the same time, I knew when they said $100,000 that it was laughable because there was no way in the world (it) could (cost) that much money.”
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According to previous reports, Miller stated on May 12, when officials announced the results of the recount, that there was not an estimated cost for the recount at that point.
Smith also challenged if what occurred was actually a recount, claiming that the city uses voting machines, which did not capture images of the votes as they were cast, stating once an individual cast their ballot, it “sends your vote into thin air and no one can ever track it.”
“A recount, in terms of the election code, is where you are specifically recounting the actual ballots that were cast. We have machines, obviously, that we vote on and those machines are what collects (the voting data),” she said. “…Essentially, what we were doing was recounting the same results that the computer generated. We weren’t counting ballots that were cast by voters. To me, it wasn’t actually a recount, in my opinion.”
Smith said she believes the recount system, in its current form, is designed for failure. She encouraged individuals to contact their legislators regarding changes in laws regarding elections and recounts, including lowering the expense of the recount process as well as instituting changes of how elections are conducted, going back to paper ballots instead of machines.
“People made machines,” she said. “They can hack into those machines and things can be altered and changed. That’s just a proven fact.”
While some of the cost did fall on the shoulders of the city, Miller said the city’s main objective is to provide resolution to anyone who does not have confidence in the election process.
Miller said he does not expect the city to do anything different with future, similar, requests. He said the city plans to treat any future requests for a recount in the same way, with the “utmost respect” for the person asking for the recount and for the taxpayers.
“Ultimately, our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we protect the integrity of the election process. There is a cost to that at times. I’m not saying that I feel good about taxpayers’ footing this bill. At the same time, I would rather do this than have anyone in our community question the integrity of our election process,” Miller said. “…I’m not saying it’s OK, but I would say I would rather pay a little more money as a taxpayer, and we all have a different opinion on $5,800. It’s quite a bit of money… But I would rather have a cost than to have people question the integrity of our elections.”
At the end of the day, Miller said he thinks the election process is the big winner.
“We had 10 votes move out of over 20,000… They were all in Randall County and the Randall County Elections Administrator takes this very seriously. She identified how exactly that happened, what was the cause of those, and they are on top of that,” Miller said. “I have 100% confidence in Randall County, in Potter County. They did a great job. The integrity of our elections, I really think is difficult to question at this point.”
Miller said Smith has 90 days from Tuesday to pay the remaining balance she owes for the recount, per Texas Election Code. Smith’s deadline to pay the remaining amount to the city of Amarillo is Sept. 20.
For more information about the city of Amarillo, visit https://www.amarillo.gov.
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