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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.

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.

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Contra Costa races still tight; results coming soon

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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McNerney’s win, in a historical perspective

Jason Bezis, a Lafayette lawyer and an amateur political history, sent me a fascinating historical look at the election of Congressman-elect Jerry McNerney in congressional District 11.

Here’s what he tells us:

Jerry McNerney’s victory in California’s 11th Congressional District is a once-in-a-generation political phenomenon:

San Joaquin Valley
Richard Pombo is the first congressman to lose a general election in a San Joaquin County district since 1978, when Norman D. Shumway (R-Stockton) defeated eleven-term Rep. John J. McFall (D-Manteca). That district included San Joaquin, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mono and Tuolumne counties and part of Stanislaus County.

Jerry McNerney is the first Democrat to unseat a Republican in a San Joaquin County congressional district in a half-century. In 1956, Manteca attorney John J. Fall (D) defeated seven-term Rep. Justin Leroy Johnson (R-Stockton) in the 11th Congressional District, which then encompassed all of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

McNerney is the fourth successful challenger in a general election for a San Joaquin County
congressional seat in the past century. Incumbent congressmen lost general elections in San Joaquin County districts in 1932, 1956, 1978 – and now 2006.

East Bay
Pombo is the first congressman to lose an election in an East Bay congressional district in a
decade. In 1996, businesswoman Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Tassajara Valley) ousted two-term Rep.
William P. Baker (D-Danville) in the 10th Congressional District, which then included parts of
Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

McNerney is the ninth successful challenger ever in an East Bay general election for Congress.
Incumbent congressmen lost general elections in East Bay districts in 1882, 1884, 1894, 1934, 1944, 1954, 1958, 1996 – and now 2006.

McNerney will be the first resident of the Livermore-Amador Valley (Livermore-Pleasanton area)
ever to serve in Congress.

Santa Clara County
Pombo is the first congressman to lose a general election in a Santa Clara County district in 68
years. In 1938, John Z. “Jack” Anderson (R-San Juan Bautista) defeated three-term Rep. John J. McGrath (D-San Mateo) in the 8th Congressional District, which then generally stretched along the coast from San Mateo to Monterey counties.

McNerney is the first Democrat to unseat a Republican in a Santa Clara County congressional district in 74 years. In 1932, John J. McGrath (D-San Mateo) defeated six-term Rep. Arthur M. Free (R-San Jose) in the 8th Congressional District, which then generally stretched along the coast from San Mateo to Monterey counties.

McNerney is the fifth successful challenger in a general election for a Santa Clara County
congressional seat in the past century. Incumbent congressmen lost general elections in Santa
Clara County districts in 1918, 1920, 1932, 1938 – and now 2006.


Other noteworthy items:

Next January, California’s 53-member congressional delegation will include 34 Democrats, the most Democrats in any state’s delegation in history. The only state delegations to include more members of single party were Pennsylvania’s 36 Republicans elected in 1924 and Pennsylvania’s 35 Republicans elected in 1928.

According to the California Secretary of State, as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday Jerry McNerney had received more votes than 32 of the other 52 victors in California congressional races. [McNerney garnered more votes than the winners in the following congressional districts: 2nd (Herger), 13th (Stark), 16th (Lofgren), 17th (Farr), 18th (Cardoza), 19th (Radanovich), 20th (Costa), 21st (Nunes), 23rd (Capps), 24th (Gallegly), 25th (McKeon), 26th (Dreier), 27th (Sherman), 28th (Berman), 29th (Schiff), 31st (Becerra), 32nd (Solis), 34th (Roybal-Allard), 35th (Waters), 37th (Millender-McDonald), 38th (Napolitano), 39th (Linda Sanchez), 40th (Royce), 41st (Lewis), 43rd (Baca), 44th (Calvert), 45th (Bono), 47th (Loretta Sanchez), 48th (Campbell), 49th (Issa), 51st (Filner), 53rd (Davis).

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Bloggers play role in Pombo’s defeat

The appearance of web sites and blogs devoted to the ousting of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, as early as four years ago may have been the proverbial canary in the mine.

Pombo lost his seat Tuesday to Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, a feat political analysts considered unlikely in the Republican district until a few months ago.

Scott Restivo, who lived in San Ramon until a recent move to Benicia, started VotePomboOut.Org in 2002 when Democrat Elaine Shaw challenged Pombo.

But he is far from alone.

There’s Pombo Watch, and Say No To Pombo and Progressive 11th and CA 11. That doesn’t count the numerous posts on sites such as Daily Kos.

“The bloggers helped organize and coalesce people behind the scenes,” Restivo says. “It wasn’t just people griping. It was all about getting information out. We were a virtual watering hole, a place where we could sit around and plan the next activity.”

The sites offered multiple viewpoints on the candidates and the campaign. Their organizers also possessed large e-mail lists and they blasted their recipients with the latest developments CD11 and news of the campaigns.

It’s a relatively cheap and regulation-free means of getting out the word. The Federal Election Commission has determined that such citizen-operated sites and blogs are not required to file as campaign committees, which would almost certaintly stifle the Internet marketplace of ideas.

Restivo started his site after redistricting in 2001 shifted him from Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s district into Republica Pombo’s.

But his site, and others, began to see heavy traffic after Pombo began moving aggressively on his conservative agenda as chairman of the House Resources Committee in 2003.

“When Jerry said he would run in 2004, that really started moving people and we started to see more traffic and the appearance of more sites,” Restivo says. “But my take on it is that Pombo did it to himself. Pombo was generating a lot of heat and people wanted to know, ‘How do we get rid of him?’ ”

The blogs and web sites were sparks, Restivo says.

But it was McNerney and the anti-Pombo campaign on the ground, Restivo said, that fueled the fire.

“You can have all the sparks you want but without the kindling and firewood, you can’t do anything,” Restivo says.

Restivo wrote an e-mail summarizing how he saw the bloggers’ role in the campaign:

The most important point is that none of us did this for fame or glory or because we were paid operatives or anything like that, such as Pombo imagines.

We did this as ordinary citizens who saw something was wrong and wanted to change it. Jerry included. I think that in itself is quite remarkable.

Somehow, Pombo and crew always seemed to ascribe ulterior motives to us, but it was much simpler than that. We went to bat for what we believed in, and are now happy to return to “ordinary” life.

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McNerney topples Pombo

U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, once thought invincible in a safe GOP seat, has been turned out by voters in the Democratic storm that roared across the country Tuesday.

With all the precincts tallied, Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton held a solid lead of 6 percentage points and more than 10,000 votes.

At 12:12 a.m. Wednesday, McNerney stood in front of 10 American flags and hundreds of cheering supporters at the San Ramon Golf Club to declare victory.

“We won this thing — it’s ours,” he said, constantly interrupted by cheers. “I’m going to fight to create new jobs. We’re going to become the country we know we can be. I’m looking to you to help inspire me. It’s about the people — we won over the monied interests. It’s time to party.”

And just like that, the Phd mathematician who lost to Pombo two years ago by 60,000 votes, walked into the loud crowd like a rock star.

The race will go down in California history as a massive upset in a district where the incumbent held a 6-percentage point party registration advantage going into Tuesday’s election. No other district in the state has flipped parties with this large a registration gap.

For the full story, click here.