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Contra Costa races still tight; results coming soon

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Tuesday, November 14th, 2006 at 11:14 am in election 2006.

Candidates in a half-dozen tight Contra Costa County races, such as the Richmond mayor and Antioch City Council, may not know their fates until early December.

An unprecedented number of absentee ballots turned in at the polls has left election officials with 40,000 ballots — about 13 percent of all the ballots cast — to count this week.

It’s a time-consuming task: Clerks must verify signatures on every absentee ballot before placing them in an optical scanner that tallies the results.

And after absentees have been rounded up, officials must count another 9,000 provisional ballots. These are ballots in which the voter believes he or she is eligible but whose name does not appear on the voter roll. The voter fills out the ballot and clerks check for eligibility after the election.

What does all this mean?

In races where a few dozen or even a few hundred votes separate winners from the losers, it could take weeks to finalize the results.

But in most of the close races, 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.

In exceptionally tight races, however, the provisional ballots may affect the outcome. The clerks probably won’t finish counting these ballots for several weeks. Under state law, 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.

Races still undetermined include:

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.

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

Pinole: Mary Horton and Betty Boyle are battling it out for the third opening on the City Council, with 102 votes between them.

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 contests also exist in the Knightsen Police Protection District, Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, Rodeo Hercules Fire Protect District and the Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District.

It’s unclear why so many absentee voters waited until Monday and Election Day to cast their ballots.

Weir attributes heavy pre-election publicity for the significant drop in ballots that arrived too late to count, however. In June, 2 percent of all ballots arrived after the polls closed. That figure is less than 1/2 of one percent in this election.

Officials urged voters that did not mail their ballots by the Friday before the election to bring them to the polls or to county’s Martinez office.

By the time all ballots have been counted, Weir estimates that Contra Costa’s voter turn-out was 63.4 percent, about average for a gubernatorial general election.

For the second election in the row, absentee voters comprised more than half of the results: 52 percent of the ballots were absentee while 48 percent were cast at the polls.

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