Editorial: Candidates in county races should not be required to pay for full recounts
It's been three months since a DuPage County judge ordered a recount of the ballots from the county auditor race. But the recount of the November election -- which former Auditor Bob Grogan lost by just 75 votes to William "Bill" White -- is yet to begin.
And unless Grogan can raise more than $56,000 by the end of next week, it won't happen at all.
The situation raises an important question: Why do candidates in county races shoulder the financial burden of paying for full recounts?
State law allows a judge to order a candidate who requests a recount to provide a bond or cash deposit to cover some or all of the costs. If the candidate wins the recount, the money is refunded.
However, full recounts are rare. Candidates have to prove there are discrepancies before they can seek a court order for a complete recount. To do that, they must examine ballots as part of a partial recount called a discovery.
DuPage has had many discovery recounts over the past 20 years, but none have resulted in a full recount.
During his discovery recount of 25% of the precincts in DuPage, Grogan found that election judges at a Downers Grove polling place did not initial 436 ballots on Election Day. He argues that made those ballots invalid, and if they were thrown out, he would have won by seven votes.
Judge Craig Belford agreed. In May, Belford ruled that Grogan presented enough evidence to merit a full recount of the more than 466,000 ballots cast in the race. It then took time to determine how much the recount would cost Grogan.
County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek wanted Grogan to pay nearly $290,000. But last week, Belford denied some of the expenses requested by the county clerk, cutting the amount down to $112,614. He also decided Grogan should only have to post half -- $56,307 -- in advance.
Grogan has until Aug. 27 to deposit the $56,307 with the clerk's office. He's fundraising to secure the money and has said he's "cautiously optimistic" he can meet the deadline.
Ben Silver, a lawyer with the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, says states across the country handle recounts in different ways. Some pay for recounts out of tax dollars.
"Our General Assembly decided to place the burden of contesting an election, including the potential cost, on the petitioner," Silver said.
It's too late to change the rules for Grogan, but state lawmakers should take note for the future. If a candidate can convince a judge that a full recount is warranted, the cost should not prevent the recount from happening. Government officials are responsible for producing accurate election results, and if evidence is found to show that a full recount is required to ensure that outcome, the financial burden of doing it should fall to the government.