TS - 'It ain't over 'til it's over': Thousands of uncounted ballots leave some Humboldt County races uncertain

'It ain't over 'til it's over': Thousands of uncounted ballots leave some Humboldt County races uncertain

The drama of Election Day has passed, the parties have been held and the initial results have been reported. But this thing is far from over.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich said Wednesday that almost 13,000 ballots have yet to be counted and likely won't be tabulated for two to three weeks. It's currently unknown exactly what precincts the ballots are from and what races they might affect, Crnich said.

That puts just about every race in the county mathematically in play and leaves the outcome of three especially tight races hanging in the balance.

Crnich said 5,623 vote-by-mail ballots received by the elections office prior to Tuesday have been verified but have not yet been counted. Additionally, she said 5,649 vote-by-mail ballots were received at polling locations and at the elections office counter on Tuesday. Another 1,688 provisional ballots were cast at polling locations Tuesday, Crnich said, bringing the total number of yet-to-be-counted ballots to 12,960.

Crnich said the number of provisional ballots filled out in this race was unusually high. She said she imagines it's because Humboldt State University is back in session, and many students may have moved but failed to update their voter registration since the last election they participated in. She said the majority of the provisional ballots were cast in Arcata precincts.

The elections office's first order of business moving forward will be to update the voter history

of the 29,950 people who voted at Humboldt County's polling locations on Tuesday, Crnich said.
”We have to update the voter history of those voters that went to the polls first to make sure nobody dropped off an absentee ballot at one precinct and then went to another polling location to vote again,” Crnich said, adding that checking voter histories will likely be a two-week process, after which the county can start the process of verifying signatures for the vote-by-mail ballots received on Election Day.

”We're going to crank on it as hard and as fast as we can because we know there are people out there who are very passionate about it,” Crnich said. “But I'll take accuracy over speed.”

The elections office has about 28 days before it has to release the official election canvass, and Crnich said she doesn't anticipate having updated vote totals for two to three weeks.

If all 12,960 of the remaining ballots are valid -- which is very unlikely -- it would push the county's voter turnout to 51,670, roughly 66 percent of eligible voters.

”That's huge,” Crnich said. “There were a lot of things on the ballot this time that people were really, truly passionate about, and they got to the polls to express their opinion.”

According to elections office records, 47.7 percent of the county's voters turned out for the June primary election, 80 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2008 presidential election and 63 percent turned out in November 2006.

The outstanding ballots could represent about 25 percent of the total turnout in this election and, consequently, could sway the outcomes of some local races. Crnich said it was impossible Wednesday to say how many outstanding ballots were in play in specific races, leaving it difficult to predict how some races may play out.

The preliminary results in three high-profile races have candidates running neck-and-neck, separated by only a few percentage points. Here's a closer look at each, and at how the yet-to-be-counted ballots may turn the tide.

Humboldt County District Attorney

Early numbers Tuesday night had challenger Allison Jackson holding a commanding 16-point lead over two-term incumbent Paul Gallegos, but the lead dwindled as the night wore on until the final report showed Gallegos holding the lead.

Election night's first report -- which comprised only vote-by-mail ballots -- showed Jackson holding 58 percent of the vote. The second report -- which included mostly precincts in Eureka and surrounding areas -- showed Jackson's lead dipping to 56.4 percent. The third report -- which included Manila, Freshwater and some other areas surrounding Eureka -- brought Jackson's lead down to 53.9 percent. Report No. 4 -- which included Fortuna, McKinleyville and parts of Southern Humboldt -- showed Jackson's support had dropped to just 52.1 percent with Gallegos getting 47.6 percent of the vote, up from just 41.6 percent in the first report of the night.

The fifth and final report -- which included Arcata -- swung the tide and showed Gallegos out front with 51.3 percent of the vote to Jackson's 48.4, with 1,054 votes separating the candidates.

Crnich said the Arcata precincts reported late because at least one precinct hit some hang-ups in the end-of-night audit, delaying the delivery of all the city's precinct data to the elections office.

With some 12,960 votes still at play, it seems the district attorney's race is still wide open.

In the preliminary results, Jackson held a commanding 60-to-40 lead in vote-by-mail ballots. If those numbers hold for the vote-by-mail ballots that came in just before or on Election Day, it seems Jackson is poised to take the race.

However, Gallegos dominated the voting at the precincts Tuesday, taking 57 percent of the vote to Jackson's 42. If the late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots fall more in line with the precinct results -- as experts say they are prone to do -- Gallegos seems ready to take the election handily.

At this point, there are no clear answers.

Jackson said Wednesday that the number of outstanding ballots is “huge” and that she'll just have to wait and see how things shake out, like everybody else. Fresh off a months-long campaign, Jackson said she has plenty to do to keep herself occupied while the final ballots are tallied.

”I've got depositions (today), two trials coming up and I will be very busy,” she said.

Gallegos was not immediately available for comment Wednesday, but said Tuesday night he was looking forward to putting the campaign behind him and spending some time with his wife and his kids.

Ward 3 Eureka City Council

With more than 6,000 votes cast, Ron Kuhnel and Mike Newman are running neck and neck in the race for a seat on the Eureka City Council, with preliminary results showing them separated by 171 votes, or roughly 2.5 percent.

Newman held a commanding 7-point lead in vote-by-mail numbers, while Kuhnel got the slight edge at the precincts by taking 42.6 percent of the vote to Newman's 42 percent. Again, the uncounted ballots have the potential to swing this race in either direction. Though Kuhnel admits the odds aren't in his favor, he said he's certainly not throwing in the towel at this point.

”I'm not going to concede this election,” he said. “You could get a big surprise.”

Newman said he was approaching the situation with “guarded optimism.”

”We'll just have to wait and see how (the uncounted ballots) come out, but if they hold true to what the trend has been, I think we'll see that 2 or 3 percent margin hold,” he said.

Fortuna City Council and Rio Dell City Council

While late election results show two distinct leaders in each race, the dash for the third open seat on each council is a bit closer.

In Fortuna, Mike Losey took 23.3 percent of the vote and Sue Long 18.6 percent. They appear poised to take their seats, while the race for the third has Dean Glaser 405 votes ahead of Janelle Egger, which is statistically unlikely to change.

In Rio Dell, the two leaders -- Julie Woodall with 29.6 percent of the vote and Melissa Marks with 27.6 percent of vote -- appear to have handily won a seat. Coming in third is Richard Leo “Bud” Leonard, who holds a 29-vote lead over Mike Dunker in a spread too close to call.

5th District Humboldt County Supervisor

With almost 7,500 ballots cast, only 93 votes separate 5th District Humboldt County supervisor candidates Patrick Cleary and Ryan Sundberg in the preliminary election results, with Sundberg holding the narrow 1 percent lead.

In contrast to the district attorney race, this race showed virtually identical results in ballots cast by mail and at precincts, with Sundberg holding a 1-point lead in both. Obviously, if that pattern holds, it's Sundberg's race.

But if even a fraction of the 12,960 outstanding ballots fall within the 5th District and break from the pattern, the race could be wide open.

Sundberg wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday.

”It's far too early to tell anything,” Cleary said. “I don't think we're going to know anything for another 30 days. ... I guess I'll fall back to Yogi Berra and say, 'It ain't over 'til it's over.'”

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com.