Sonoma County workers Wednesday set about the laborious task of counting and verifying tens of thousands of mail-in ballots.
Bins of uncounted ballots in the Registrar of Voters’ warehouse vividly illustrated the numbers of envelopes yet to be opened and examined by a staff of up to 24 election workers committed to the task.
It likely will take the full 31 days permitted by law to count them, said Janice Atkinson, county elections chief.
That will delay the naming of victors in at least three local elections, and none of the results for any race or ballot measure will be official until that final certification.
County elections officials are urging absentee voters to drop off their ballots this weekend at one of the nine sites established to ease the anticipated crunch on Monday and on election day. Nearly 185,000 vote-by-mail ballots have been issued for Tuesday’s election, a number that beats the previous record by about 15,600 ballots, officials said.
Sonoma County has issued nearly 185,000 vote-by-mail ballots for Tuesday’s election, a new record that represents 71 percent of registered voters.
But it also means that any close race — such as the 1st District supervisorial contest between Santa Rosa City Council members Susan Gorin and John Sawyer — may remain unresolved for up to four weeks after the election.
The burgeoning number of absentee voters, along with high voter participation and a lengthy ballot in the presidential election, virtually guarantees that officials will need the full 28 days allowed by law to tally the vote, county elections chief Janice Atkinson said Thursday.
UPDATE 9:45 AM: Sonoma County election workers still need to count tens of thousands of mail-in ballots turned in Tuesday, potentially putting several tight contests in question, including a handful of school board races in communities around Sonoma County. It could be Thanksgiving before the tally becomes official.
Mayor Jim Wood and former police chief Susan Jones were elected to the Healdsburg City Council on Tuesday. But two candidates were only 61 votes apart in the race for a third seat: Stephen Babb and Loretta Strong.
Assembly candidate Michael Allen saw his lead narrow to 270 votes Monday in the hard-fought 7th Assembly District Democratic primary after all the mail-in ballots were counted in Solano County, the stronghold of his main rival, Vallejo City Councilman Michael Wilson. Both candidates expect a winner to emerge Wednesday, when all Napa County votes are finalized.
Hundreds of Sonoma County residents who cast their ballots by mail last week will not have their votes counted. Why? They did not make it to the county elections office in time. “You’re taking your chances when you put it in the mail,” said Gloria Colter, assistant registrar of voters.
The winner of a tight race for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Assembly District likely will not be determined for several weeks, until an estimated 49,000 absentee ballots in three counties are counted.
Former Santa Rosa planning commissioner Michael Allen holds a 520-vote lead over Vallejo City Councilman Michael Wilson. But most of the uncounted ballots are in Sonoma County, where voters have favored Allen.
“I feel confident that the hard work of our campaign team and volunteers will lead us to a victory,” Allen wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.