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Election 2012: Still Counting

The election is over, but workers in both Monterey and Santa Cruz County still have ballots to count, about 60,000 between the two counties. Is that enough to tip the scales in any of the races?

On the day after the election, the Monterey County Elections Office in Salinas has quieted down quite a bit. But workers remain busy.  At a large table in back, six of them sort through long blue tubs neatly stuffed with absentee ballots.  These ballots were turned in by voters on Election Day.  “This is where they are going to start verifying pretty soon,” said Claudio Valenzuela, Assistant Registrar of Voters for Monterey County.  The workers are prepping each envelope so that the signature can be matched to what’s on file.  It’s the beginning of a slow process.  “We don’t have machines for that.  There’s humans doing this, so it’s quite a scrutiny that each envelope has to go through before we extract that ballot for counting,” said Valenzuela.  If you looked on the elections web site for Monterey County, Santa Cruz County or the Secretary of State, you would find preliminary election results that say 100% reporting.  But that 100% refers to the ballots cast at precincts, or polling sites. Elections offices around the state still have to count ballots not cast this way.  Those can include absentee mail-in ballots turned in on Election Day, provisional ballots, military and overseas ballots and the list goes on. 

Valenzuela estimates that there are roughly 30,000 ballots left to count in Monterey County.  In Santa Cruz County, there are more than 30,000.  It sounds like a lot, but CSU Monterey Bay Political History Professor David Anderson says it’s not necessarily enough to tip the scales in any one race.  “The general rule of thumb is any uncounted ballots are generally breakdown pretty close to the counted ballots. So that unless there is a very close where just a handful of votes would make a difference, usually when you get up to 90% counted or 85% counted something like that, you pretty well know what the outcome is going to be,” said Anderson.  What’s a very close margin? It depends on the election.  “You get 100 votes, 50 votes difference, in a local election sometimes those things can change in an additional day or two of counting,” said Anderson.

Jim Ford is in one of those races that Anderson would call razor thin. Ford is running for re-election on the Marina City Council. There are two open spots.  And right now, he’s in third place, just 16 votes behind his nearest competitor Attorney Gail Morton. He says as soon as he saw preliminary results he knew his race wasn’t over.  “I did yes because one of the things that I knew is that there were a lot of people that told me they voted for me that dropped off ballots at city hall, and also at the election place,” said Ford. 

Monterey County Election officials expect to have more ballots counted by Friday. But it will be four weeks before final results are certified throughout the state.  So what could speed it up this process? Claudio Valenzuela says it would help if those who vote by mail turn their ballots in before Election Day.  “We would love for people that when they receive their ballots, they do their research. They read all their materials and then vote. They have practically 29 days before the election,” said Valenzuela.  Before the election, workers are allowed to start prepping those ballots to be counted, and they’re generally the first results reported on Election Day. 

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.