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In-Depth: Looking into the cost of special election to replace Nathan Fletcher

Fletcher's resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations cost San Diego more than $5M
Nathan Fletcher
Posted at 11:52 AM, Dec 05, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- San Diego County's special election to replace County Board of Supervisor Nathan Fletcher cost more than $5 million, and that total could grow once final invoices are paid at the start of 2024.

Fletcher resigned from the Board of Supervisors in May 2023 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. He has denied all wrongdoing.

His resignation opened a seat on the Board that had to be filled, and after a primary and a runoff, San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery-Steppe won the seat.

Montgomery-Steppe was sworn on Tuesday.

According to numbers from County Registrar Cynthia Paes, the two elections cost the county an estimated $5.2 million. The exact number will come out in January or February.

But since Montgomery-Steppe had to resign from her seat on the San Diego City Council to join the Board, the Registrar's office will have to hold another special election to fill that vacancy.

That election is March 5. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff in June.

Essentially, that means Fletcher's resignation could lead to as many as four extra elections across San Diego.

Paes said that's not uncommon, adding, "I've looked back the past probably 30 years, and we've made it through one year without conducting an election. So, it's not unusual at all. Our role here is to provide the forum for people to exercise their right to vote so that that is what we do."

Ensuring that right comes at a cost, especially when California law requires several extra steps to ensure voting access and integrity.

Labor costs make up most of the bill, as voting centers must be open for 11 days and have a staff of 8-12 people per day. The Registrar also needs to hire several two-person teams to drive to ballot drop boxes and collection sites to pick up ballots. There will also be a need for extra staff to count and canvas votes once the election is over.

On top of labor costs, the Registrar is responsible for printing and mailing all the ballots, pre-election notifications, informational pamphlets, and more. A lot of that must be translated into five different languages.

Paes said the jurisdiction responsible for the election pays for it all from their general fund.

"We try to distribute those costs fairly," Paes said, about ballots that cover multiple cities, counties, congressional districts, school districts, and other areas. "But with each year, a lot of these costs become more complex and higher."