Humboldt County Elections Manager Kelly Sanders told the Outpost today that the Elections Office still has 24,588 ballots left to count — a far higher number than in elections past — leaving a very small measure of hope alive for candidates who came up short on election night. The county’s final election night report showed a total of 32,128 votes counted. If all of the remaining votes are valid, they will end up accounting for about 45 percent of the total Humboldt County votes cast in the Nov. 6 election.
The uncounted ballots come from a variety of sources outside the traditional go-to-the-polling-place-and-vote system of elections. These days, Californians can and do vote in a bewildering variety of ways. They can vote by mail; they can drop absentee ballots off at a polling place or at the Elections Office; they can provisionally vote at a polling place that is not their own; they can register to vote on Election Day itself, and cast a ballot that will be counted if their registration is legitimate.
Sanders said she’s never had so many leftovers at the end of the night. “I just think that there was a bigger turnout,” she said, when asked why. “And it seems to be a recent trend that people are holding on to their vote-by-mail ballots longer.”
At this point, the Elections Office doesn’t have a geographic breakdown of where the ballots are from. About one-sixth of the votes counted on Election Day were from the City of Eureka, where most of the hotly contested races were in this cycle. If that proportion holds true with the uncounted ballots, that would amount to about 4,100 votes in the city of Eureka that are still uncounted.
Could this change the outcome of any Eureka races? It’s possible, but it seems unlikely. If history is anything to go by, these ballots (considered in total) have almost always resembled the votes cast at the precincts, rather than the absentee votes counted early. In Eureka, the candidates who ended up with healthy leads on Election Night crushed their opponents in the precinct vote. If the historical trends hold true, their margins should, if anything, increase.
But even leaving that aside, the amount of ground that the second-place finishers would have to recover makes a change in the outcome unlikely. In the race for Mayor of Eureka — the closest race in the city — Susan Seaman holds a 2,196 to 1,505 lead over second-place finisher Michelle Costantine. Costantine would have to have 692 more votes than Seaman in this pool of uncounted Eureka votes to make up the difference. If there are, in fact, around 4,100 outstanding for Eureka, that means Costantine would have to place almost 17 percentage points higher than Seaman in this tranche of votes — 57 percent to 40 percent, say.
Not impossible, but very unlikely. But Costantine placed nine percentage points below Seaman in the conservative early absentee vote, and 18 percentage points below her in the precinct vote.
It’s not inconceivable that there could end up being more than 24,588 ballots uncounted when all is said and done. For a mail-in vote to be valid, it only has to be postmarked by the end of election day. There could be some number of ballots still en route.