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Costs for possible Campbell recall election are hard to project, officials say

San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell of District 2 is the subject of a recall campaign.
(File)

Registrar of voters office says estimates of $1.6 million to $2 million are ‘rough’ and include several assumptions.

A key criticism of the campaign to recall San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell has been the high cost of a recall election, but city officials and the county registrar of voters office say it’s difficult to estimate those costs.

The anti-recall campaign has been using a $2 million price tag in its communications, which is based on an email from a registrar official in February.

But $2 million is the high end of what city and registrar officials call a “rough cost projection” that is subject to many variables and unknowns.

In her official response to the recall campaign, District 2’s Jennifer Campbell touts her medical experience as crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those variables include how many candidates would be on the ballot as possible Campbell replacements, the potential impact of COVID-19 on voting, and whether the Campbell recall could be combined with a recall against Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Without the specificity required, there is too broad of a cost range to make an appropriate projection,” Liliana Lau, a registrar official, wrote in an email to Campbell’s staff Feb. 8.

“A rough cost projection based on prior elections that were similar on size is approximately $1.6 million to $2 million,” Lau added, underlining and italicizing the word “rough.”

Supporters of the recall against Campbell, who represents the city’s beach communities in council District 2, including Point Loma and Ocean Beach, say it’s inappropriate for Campbell supporters to say a recall election would cost taxpayers $2 million when the cost is uncertain.

Dan Rottenstreich, a consultant for the anti-recall effort, said a recall election would be too expensive regardless of the variables.

“No matter how many millions of dollars this unnecessary recall election costs, it’s an irresponsible waste of taxpayer money with the city facing a massive budget deficit caused by COVID-19,” he said.

The registrar’s initial estimate was based partly on a November 2017 special election in Poway that cost $408,000 and a May 2019 special election in Solana Beach that cost $182,000.

During those elections, Poway had 29,335 registered voters and Solana Beach had 9,174. San Diego’s District 2 has about 96,000 registered voters.

Special elections typically cost much more than primaries or general elections because costs for printing and poll workers can’t be shared with the county, state and federal government, which wouldn’t have any candidates or measures on a Campbell recall ballot — except a possible Newsom recall.

Supporters of the Campbell recall have until early June to collect more than 14,000 signatures from registered voters in the district. If they do, a recall election likely would be held in late November or early December.

The signature gathering deadline for the Newsom recall is March 17. Costs for a Campbell recall would be lower if both recalls were on the same ballot.

Interim registrar Cynthia Paes reiterated this week that the February projection was based on limited information and noted that it also included several assumptions.

Those assumptions are that every registered voter in District 2 would get a ballot in the mail, there would be at least 10 mail ballot drop-off locations with staffing, and polling places would have four workers and be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. the day of the election.

The registrar also assumed that four candidates would appear on the recall ballot as possible replacements for Campbell, but filing to appear as a candidate hasn’t begun and there is no limit on the number of candidates. So far, Democrat Loxie Grant and Republican Adam Huntington have announced plans to run.

Diana Fuentes, the city’s deputy director of elections, agreed with the registrar that coming up with a solid cost estimate for the recall is not possible at this time.

“There is too broad of a cost range to make an appropriate projection,” she said.

Fuentes also provided some additional variables.

“Election costs can change based on a variety of factors, such as cost of paper, printing, processing, etc,” she said. “Additionally, the cost can change based on the number of registered voters and the amount of pages the sample ballot may be.”

Recall supporters filed a notice of intent Feb. 3, and Campbell filed an official response Feb. 17.

Campbell, 75, has called the recall campaign reckless, divisive, expensive and a distraction from city efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.

Leaders of the recall campaign say Campbell, a Democrat who was narrowly elected council president in December, has been losing the trust of constituents by damaging quality of life, breaking promises and holding closed-door meetings with special interests.

The recall campaign also criticizes her for supporting a ballot measure that lifted building height limits near the sports arena in the Midway District and for spearheading recently approved vacation rental legislation that critics say is too lenient.


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