The Long, Long Vote Count

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“No on T”: Lincoln Street, North Berkeley.

Once upon a time, almost all of us went to the polls on the same day and cast our ballots. And most of the time, you’d find out the outcome of an election the same night or the next day. But all that’s changed. California had a record high number of registered voters this year, more than 18 million (that’s close to the total population of Florida). And more than half of them–a little more than the entire population of New Jersey–asked for mail-in ballots. One of the results of the accelerating vote-by-mail trend is a very long, slow vote count here. News item from the Sacramento Bee: More than 3 million ballots left to count in California:

“California’s elections officials had tallied more than 9.6 million votes from Tuesday’s elections by late Thursday afternoon, but they still have their work cut out for them.

“How many ballots are left to count? More than 3 million, according to information that county officials had given the Secretary of State’s Office by late Thursday. Los Angeles County alone had about 796,000 to go. …”

The vote in at least three congressional races here is still up in the air. Three Republican incumbents who are trailing by narrow margins, Mary Bono Mack, Brian Bilbray, and Dan Lungren, could still come out ahead.

In Alameda County, where I live, the registrar of voters reports 142,000 ballots left to count. So that raises the question of how close races might change once election workers make their way through that mountain of mail-in and provisional ballots. For instance, a county transportation sales tax that needs a two-thirds “yes” vote to pass is short of that threshold now, with 65.4 percent. But those outstanding ballots represent about one-quarter of all the votes cast in the election, so it’s conceivable that the measure could still edge ahead in the end.

Even closer to home, in Berkeley, we have a measure on the ballot, Measure T, that would change zoning rules on the west side of town to allow some big new developments. The vote in that race, updated once Wednesday, once Thursday by the county, is 16,640 “yes” and 16,639 “no.” Yep–one vote.

So: how many votes might there be left to count in that race?

So far, a total of about 33,300 votes have been reported in the Measure T race. In the November 2008 general election, about 66,000 people voted in Berkeley, with most ballot measures showing a total participation of 55,000 votes or so. In November 2004, the total vote was about 60,000, with about 49,000 ballots cast on most ballot measures (I would go further back, but that’s all I can find for historical vote totals on the county site). My guess is that turnout would be closer this year to 2004 than 2008. If you split the difference in ballot measure participation for those two years, you’d be at about 52-53,000 for this year. If that guess is right, there are still about 20,000 votes to count citywide; even if you’re at the lower end, the 2004 participation level, there are still 16,000 votes to count. The Measure T drama has a long way to go, and might not even be so dramatic at the end.

If there really are that many votes outstanding, I’d think there’s at least a small chance that Measure S, an ordinance that aims to crack down on transients by banning sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., could still pass. About 36,000 votes have been reported so far in the Measure S race, and “yes” has trailed “no” by about 1,000 votes since the final election night count (it got a tiny bit tighter yesterday). Let’s say there are at least 15,000 Measure S votes still to count (probably more). It wouldn’t take much of a shift in the remaining group of mail-in ballots to close that gap. It’s really hard to say, though, since there’s no way of telling (from outside the registrar’s office, at least) where the remaining ballots come from.

Last: The arithmetic on the S and T suggests a sizable percentage of voters in the group of ballots counted so far–about 6 percent–voted on Measure S and skipped Measure T.

I look forward to seeing whether my vote-total numbers are way the hell off or not.

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Sacramento and Francisco streets: Election Day, November 6, 2012.

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