Local News

Wednesday, Nov 03 2010 09:44 AM

Races up in air as 65,000 ballots remained uncounted

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Ryan Anderson, left, Alicia Huerta, center, and Isis Woods, right, sort through mail-in ballots at the Kern County elections office Wednesday, the day after the statewide election. The total number of outstanding ballots including provisional ballots was around 65,000.

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BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

More than one in three ballots cast in Kern County's general election remained uncounted Wednesday, leaving several key races way up in the air.

In fact it may be days before we know who will be our next 2nd District county supervisor and 20th District congressman.

Kern County elections workers were struggling to tally an estimated 65,000 outstanding provisional and vote-by-mail ballots that poured into county offices over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday, said elections chief Karen Rhea.

Provisional ballots, which made up about 7,000 of the 65,000, are cast when there's some question on Election Day about a voter's eligibility. Elections officials then investigate whether to count those votes.

Wednesday's uncounted ballots were cast in addition to the 121,342 ballots elections workers had tallied up by the wee hours of Wednesday morning. That meant as much as 34.8 percent of Kern's total vote was still in question.

By contrast, about 26,000 vote-by-mail and 2,000 provisional ballots were uncounted in Kern the morning after the June primary. In Fresno County Wednesday, 70,000 to 90,000 ballots were untallied, officials there said. Other counties reported receiving a deluge of late votes, too.

Kern County Auditor-Controller Ann Barnett said the vote-by-mail count was slowed when a part on the elections division's new ballot-counting machine went out.

And, Barnett said, tears and other damage to ballots have required workers to duplicate an extraordinary number of ballots and process those copies.

But, she said, a stunning 40,000 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots were delivered by mail, at the polls and at the elections office on Election Day itself.

Meanwhile, Bakersfield City Councilman Zack Scrivner held a slender 156-vote lead over former Supervisor Steve Perez in the 2nd District supervisor's race. That was a spread of just .63 percent of the votes cast.

Tuesday night Scrivner had built up a solid lead of several hundred votes as Bakersfield-area numbers were posted online.

But Perez roared back into the fight overnight as votes from rural east Kern and Tehachapi, his home turf, were counted.

Scrivner said Wednesday he was glad to hold onto the lead after east Kern voted.

"I'm certainly happy with the support we received out in east Kern," he said.

But both Scrivner and Perez said their contest is far from finished.

"Just like the primary, there is a lot left to be determined," Scrivner said.

Perez said he feels optimistic about so many votes being outstanding. He believes that means there are a lot of rural, east Kern voters who have yet to be heard.

"I had the feeling that this was going to be just like the primary," Perez said.

Democratic political consultant and observer Gene Tackett said the uncounted votes could be good news for Perez.

"I would assume that that gives Perez a chance," he said.

Republican political analyst Stan Harper said "going on past history," Perez may have an advantage over Scrivner when the vote-by-mail ballots are finally tallied.

Harper said vote-by-mail ballots often come from rural, east county voters. And that is good news for Perez.

Both Perez and Scrivner said they will wait out the counting process, just as they did in the June primary, where the two edged out four other candidates by a few hundred votes.

Perez said he plans to clean up his campaign signs and probably won't use them again. He said he doesn't plan to run for office again if he isn't successful this year.

Kern County's numbers could also be significant in the 20th Congressional District race, where incumbent and veteran campaigner Jim Costa, D-Fresno, trailed newcomer Andy Vidak by 1,823 votes out of the 63,239 votes that had been counted.

Costa defeated Vidak handily in Kern County -- pulling in 61.5 percent of the vote to Vidak's 38.2 percent.

"Jim Costa did so well in Kern County that some of those votes could help him as well," Tackett said.

Kern County represents just less than one-third of all the votes in the 20th Congressional race so far and outstanding votes here could tighten the contest.

Rhea said the elections department will work to count ballots as quickly as possible.

But, she said, better numbers probably won't be available until Friday and a final wrap-up could take until Monday to complete.

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