Elected official on your Christmas list?

Read Sacramento Bee columnist Steve Wiegand’s helpful holiday advice if you happen to feel like buying a nice present for your favorite elected official. Here’s a bit of his column:

With the holiday season breathing down our necks, it’s appropriate that the Fair Political Practices Commission has ratcheted up the value of gifts you can give public officials.

At its meeting last week, the commission raised the annual limit from the current $360 to $390 per official, an 8.3 percent boost. With the increase alone, you could get your favorite senator a copy of the “Reservoir Dogs” computer game, two boxes of Winchester 30-06 rifle ammunition, or 10 pounds of bacon. No rush — the changes don’t go into effect until Jan. 1.

The FPPC also raised per-person campaign contribution limits. For legislative hopefuls, the limit goes from $3,300 to $3,600 per election. Max totals to would-be governors go from $22,300 per election to $24,100, and for other statewide office wannabes, from $5,600 to $6,000.


McNerney appointed to selection steering committee

This just in from Congressman-elect Jerry McNerney’s office:

Rep. Elect Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was named today to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. The committee, of which Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will serve as chairwoman, will determine individual committee assignments for Democratic members, as well as to provide policy recommendations to the party leadership.

“I am honored to be nominated to this committee,” McNerney said, “I look forward to bringing a strong voice and fresh leadership to this important role. This is an opportunity for me to work with my colleagues in tackling some of the important issues that face our constituents, like energy independence, while helping my party lead our country in a new direction.”

McNerney was appointed to the committee after a unanimous vote by the Northern California delegation.

“Jerry McNerney brings a wealth of knowledge and an innovative outlook to Congress and I am pleased to welcome him as the thirty-forth member of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation,” said delegation leader Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. “I also am proud to have him represent Northern California in the ‘Committee on Committees’ and think this choice shows the high regard California members have towards him.”


Contra Costa/Alameda election results updated

The leaders in all the close Alameda and Contra County races remain ahead after election officials completed counting the bulk of the remaining absentee ballots this afternoon.

The counties have until Dec. 5 to certify and release the final vote results.

But the chance of a shift this late in tallying process has dropped substantially now that only a small percentage of ballots remain uncounted.

“Most of these races are no longer close,” Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir.

Races to watch Contra Costa include:

Antioch: Reggie Moore slightly widened his lead over Manny Soliz by 92 votes for the second slot on the City Council.

Concord: Incumbent Helen Allen slightly increased her lead over Ron Leone to 341 votes for the third opening on the City Council.

John Swett Unified School District: William Concannon widened his lead over Jim Delgadillo from 2 to 58 votes in the competition for the second of two open seats on the board.

Pinole: Mary Horton’s lead over Betty Boyle dropped to 53 votes in the battle for the third opening on the City Council.

Richmond mayor: Gayle McLaughlin’s lead over incumbent Irma Anderson widened to 279 votes.

Richmond: Myrna Lopez’s lead over Corky Booze widened substantially — 416 votes — in the competition for the third opening on the City Council.

West Contra Costa County Unified School Board: Incumbent Charles Ramsey’s lead over Antonio Medrano narrowed to 118 votes for the third seat on the board.

In Alameda County, the races to watch are:

AC Transit, Ward 3: Elsa Ortiz’ lead narrowed to 76 votes over Tony Daysog for a seat on the Board of Directors.

Albany: Joanne Wile holds a 226-vote lead over Caryl O’Keefe for the second opening on the City Council.

Pleasanton: Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Hosterman widened her lead to 175 votes over challenger Steve Brozosky.


Conservative to launch CD11 blog

A half-dozen progressives successfully blogged their way to victory in the congressional District 11 fight that cost GOP Rep. Richard Pombo his job and named Democrat Jerry McNerney to the seat in one of the biggest upsets in the nation.

But conservative blogger Jon Fleischman is striking back: His popular Flash Repot will soon feature a new Central Valley blogger committed to recapturing the seat for Republicans in 2008.

“This seat is on everybody’s list of seats that flipped due some connection between the Republicans and the scandals in Washington,” Fleischman said. “The theory is that if someone runs as a Republican and doesn’t have connections to Washington, the GOP could win that seat back.”


Contra Costa, Alameda races still tight; counting continues

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.

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.