Candidates in a half-dozen tight Contra Costa and Alameda county races, such as those seeking a seat on the Antioch City Council and mayoral hopefuls in Pleasanton and Richmond, may have to wait days or weeks for the outcome.
An unprecedented number of absentee ballots turned in at the polls has left Contra Costa election officials with 40,000 ballots — about 13 percent of all the ballots cast — to count this week.
Alameda County experienced a similar deluge, although its clerks counted most of its 70,000 absentee ballots over the weekend.
Its staff is now counting as many as 5,000 absentees that were rejected by the county’s scanning equipment because they were mismarked or torn.
“We got one ballot with an apology note from someone because his dog got a hold of the ballot,” said Alameda County spokesman Guy Ashley. “We will examine each of those ballots and see if we can determine the voter’s intent and record those votes.”
After absentees have been rounded up, Contra Costa officials must count another 9,000 provisional ballots while Alameda County has 15,000.
Provisionals are ballots in which the voter believes he or she is eligible but whose name does not appear on the voter rolls. The voter fills out the ballot and clerks confirm eligibility after the election.
What does all this mean?
It’s time-consuming to examine and process thousands of ballots individually, especially when voters drop them off by the truckload on Election Day. Clerks must open every envelope, check every signature and scan every ballot themselves.
Contrast that to votes cast in the polling place, where the voter marks it, inserts it into an optical scanner and clerks download the results into the computer.
As a result, in races where a few dozen or a few hundred votes separate winners from the losers, it could take days or weeks to finalize results.
In most of the close races in Contra Costa, Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir hopes to have answers by Thursday or Friday.
“We’re hoping to finish the absentee counts by Thursday or Friday and we’ll update our results,” Weir said.
But in exceptionally tight races, outstanding provisional ballots could affect the outcome.
Clerks hope to finish counting these ballots next week or at the latest, after the Thanksgiving holiday. Counties have until Dec. 5 to certify the election results.
In particular, the 900 provisional ballots in Richmond could be a factor in the outcome of its mayor and council races. Residents unwilling to vote at a community center in the Iron Triangle contributed to the higher-than-usual numbers of provisional ballots in the city, Weir said.
It’s unclear why so many absentee voters waited until Monday and Election Day to cast their ballots.
But this trend, say election officials, is here to stay. Vote-by-mail rolls have expanded steadily, either out of convenience or a growing distrust of voting equipment.
For the second election in a row, more people voted absentee than went to the polls in both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
By the time all ballots have been counted, Weir estimates that turn-out in Contra Costa will reach 63 percent, about average for the county. About 52 percent of the ballots were absentee while 48 percent were cast at the polls.
Alameda County reported a lower turn-out rate of 55 percent, but reported a similar split between absentee and voting at the polls.
ELECTION 2006: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Races with close margins include:
AC Transit, Ward 3: Elsa Ortiz holds a 146-vote leader of Tony Daysog for a seat on the Board of Directors.
Albany: Joanne Wile holds a 211-vote lead over Caryl O’Keefe for the second opening on the City Council.
Antioch: Reggie Moore holds an 83-vote lead over Manny Soliz for the second slot on the City Council.
Concord: Incumbent Helen Allen has a 258-vote lead over Ron Leone for the third opening on the City Council
John Swett Unified School District: William Concannon has a 2-vote lead over Jim Delgadillo for the second open seat on the board.
Pinole: Mary Horton and Betty Boyle are battling it out for the third opening on the City Council, with 102 votes between them.
Pleasanton: Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Hosterman holds a slim 115-vote lead over challenger Steve Brozosky.
Richmond mayor: Gayle McLaughlin leads incumbent Irma Anderson by 192 votes.
Richmond: Myrna Lopez has a 160-vote margin lead over Corky Booze in the competition for the third opening on the City Council.
West Contra Costa County Unified School Board: Incumbent Charles Ramsey holds a 360-vote lead over Antonio Medrano for the third seat on the board.
Close races also exist in the Kensington Police Protection District, Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, Rodeo Hercules Fire Protect District and the Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District.