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In Santa Cruz County, Election Day rush means many races not yet called

A Santa Cruz County official ballot drop box in a parking lot on March 5, 2024.
Erin Malsbury
A Santa Cruz County official ballot drop box.

Election Day was Tuesday, but across the state, officials are still counting votes.

In Santa Cruz County, the final tally could mean the difference between an outright win — or a runoff — in some city council and county supervisor races.

County clerk Tricia Webber says along with thousands of early votes, the county received a swell of ballots on Tuesday. That includes over 22,000 vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at a drop box, polling place or vote center.

On Thursday, Webber said the county is planning another results update by Friday evening.

“Our hope is that we will be through all of the signature verification of the ballots that we received on Election Day, plus the subsequent ones that came in in the mail yesterday, fingers crossed, today — I’m not sure how many there are yet — by tomorrow night,” she said. “And we hope to have 10 to 15,000 of those into the count tomorrow.”

Among the ballots being processed are around 700 same-day registration votes, Webber said, which will be included in updates as they’re validated. Of those, “almost all” came from UC Santa Cruz: she estimates above 570 were submitted on the campus.

UC Santa Cruz student Eva Dromova is among those who submitted a same-day vote. They’re from Westlake Village in Southern California, and said they had waited to vote to “take a little bit more time and truly look into what the candidates are saying.”

“Personally, I tend to distrust a lot of politicians,” they said. “Their advertisements [for Proposition 1] are like, ‘We need to help the veterans … we’ve had a lot more homelessness … they’re saying all these things, but it makes me question: ‘Is this only going to be for people who are veterans? Are other homeless individuals excluded in this? What is the catch?’”

Like Dromova, many may have waited to vote on Election Day to learn more about the complex slate of races and measures on the ballot, Webber said. Or they may have been apathetic, since it’s not when “presidential choices could be most impactful.”

“People may be waiting for more information, or more news … or more postings on social media about a candidate before making their choice, or about a contest,” the county clerk said.

But the reason many races remain close is partly because of those last-minute votes, Webber added. “When people wait until the end, and you get more on one day than the sum total of 29 days before … it takes time to process those through.”

Despite a sluggish turnout in the lead-up to the election, Webber said Santa Cruz County is ultimately anticipating over 30% voter turnout, more than the state average. She estimates the county has upwards of another 30,000 votes to add to current result totals.

That’s on par with neighboring Monterey County, which estimates 31,559 votes left to count.

Santa Cruz County will update results twice more next week, on Monday and another day not yet determined. It’s aiming to submit final election results to the Secretary of State for certification on April 2.

Jerimiah Oetting contributed reporting.

Janelle Salanga is a reporter for KAZU. Prior to joining the station, they covered Sacramento communities and helped start the SacramenKnow newsletter at CapRadio.
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