If you woke up November 7 thinking the election was a done deal -- totals are in, victors announced, also-rans in denial -- think again.
According to the Sonoma County Registrar, almost a quarter of the ballots - about 23 percent - have not yet had their votes added to the totals, as reported in an article in today's Press Democrat.
On election eve, as the county's precinct ballots were being delivered to the Registrar's Santa Rosa office for tabulation, County Registrar of Voters Janice Atkinson told Patch the vote totals would come in three waves:
- The first, the results from mail-in ballots that were received by Monday, November 5, the first figures released on the county's 2012 election results page;
- The second, the Election Day ballots cast in the county's 433 precincts, as currently reported on the same results page, updated several times during the evening of Nov. 6;
- Finally, the remaining vote-by-mail ballots received late Monday or during the day on Tuesday Nov. 6, and the "provisional ballots" accepted at polls but not submitted with the polling vote totals.
It is these ballots - the late arrival vote-by-mail ballots and the provisional ballots - that must be counted prior to the conclusion of the 28-day period allowed under state law for final vote totals.
Atkinson, in a response to questions from Patch, clarified that "not all provisionals will be valid," as they must be vetted against county records and even DMV signatures.
"No ballots have been counted since election night," wrote Atkinson. "We have been processing outstanding vote by mail ballots (verifying signatures, identifying unidentifiable [vote-by-mail] envelopes, opening envelopes, duplicating military ballots, etc."
Though this delay in final vote totals for Sonoma County may seem unusual, it is in fact business as usual for the county's Registrar of Voters department. In the June primary, results took three weeks to finalize, leading to the late concession by Norman Solomon to Daniel Roberts for the honor of losing to Jared Huffman in the second congressional district general election.
The PD reports Atkinson's decision to delay final vote totals as follows:
She said preliminary updates don't work well with the county's vote-processing system and would only delay the final count. She also questioned the value of releasing periodic, unofficial results.
"I want the candidates to have final results as soon as possible," she said. "When you have a close contest, you have to count all the ballots. Updates don't help."
The Press Democrat reports that "35,553 uncounted mail-in ballots and an estimated 6,150 provisional ballots" remain to be tabulated in Sonoma County for their total of 41,700 ballots, or "about 23 percent of the total cast by voters."
While Atkinson verified the number of uncounted and provisional ballots, the 23% number seems at some variance of the vote total currrently reported for U.S. President in Sonoma County, which adds up to over 176,000 already.
Of the races whose results could be changed by the final vote tally, the most highly visible is that between incumbent Democrat Michael Allen is trailing Democratic challenger Marc Levine in the 10th Assembly District, a district that crosses over into Marin County.
But don't expect the county registrar of voters to pick winners and losers, or even to made guesses. "We have several close contests, and we do not 'call' any contests until all votes are counted," according to Atkinson. "There are trends, however that others consider in trying to determine whether a contest will change."
In Napa County, a similar situation exists with uncounted ballots two weeks after the election. Atkinson cited an editorial by John Tuteur, her opposite number in Napa, that explains the responsibilties and the process of counting votes.
Atkinson, Sonoma County's Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, is overseeing her last election in the elected position. Earlier this year she announced her retirement for December 10, 2012. "Bill Rousseau, Chief Deputy Assessor will succeed me in office," said Atkinson, "and will run in 2014 if he wishes to continue in office for the 2015-2018 term."