More Election News

The outcome of the fiercely contested 11th Congressional District race remained a nail-biter Wednesday along with numerous close state and local races where tens of thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots have yet to be counted.

County election officials were scrambling Wednesday to begin the laborious process of verifying and counting the large number of remaining vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, a task that could take a week or longer.

Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir estimated that his office has 100,000 outstanding ballots, including at least 12,500 in the 11th District. By comparison, Contra Costa has counted roughly 227,000 ballots.

Santa Clara County reported roughly 135,000 uncounted ballots, and San Joaquin County reported 35,000 ballots to process. Alameda County was still compiling its countywide estimates.

It was unclear whether the number of post-Election Day uncounted ballots was larger than in past years; anecdotally, elected officials and voters reported higher than expected activity at the polls Tuesday.

Many vote-by-mail voters appear to have made their decisions late and dropped off their ballots at the precincts, perhaps driven by massive get-out-the-vote campaigns from all sides.

Election officials stop counting vote-by-mail ballots a day or two before Election Day in order to prepare for precinct operations, and they do not resume until after they complete the poll tallies.

The large number of outstanding ballots is common in California, Secretary of State spokeswoman Nicole Winger said.

"It is not unusual for there to be several hundred thousand unprocessed ballots throughout California after Election Day," she said. "This state has millions more registered voters than any other state in the nation and, recognizing that such huge election tallies take time, California law allows 28 days for counties to complete their counts."

Too-close-to-call statewide races include the battle between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Steve Cooley for California attorney general's office.

Cooley declared victory late Tuesday, but Harris surged in later returns and Cooley canceled his Wednesday morning news conference.

By early Wednesday afternoon, Harris, who had been trailing in the polls but was seen closing the gap in the weeks just before Election Day, led Cooley by about 14,800 votes, or 0.2 percent of those cast.

In Cooley's home county of Los Angeles, Harris led by about 259,000 votes, or 14.5 percent of those cast, a sign that her campaign blitzes to mobilize the Democratic base -- including a tour of several African-American churches on Sunday morning -- might have trumped his popularity as a three-term district attorney.

District 11 is still very much in play, as well.

Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney was behind during early vote-by-mail returns, but crept into a minuscule lead of 121 votes over GOP nominee David Harmer as Election Day votes rolled in.

Both camps expressed cautious optimism Wednesday, even as they dispatched their legal teams and observers to the four county elections offices in the sprawling district.

"I gain confidence every hour," McNerney said, referring to the narrowing of the gap that tipped into his favor early Wednesday. "I "... feel that our field operations were very effective. We had 1,500 workers on Election Day alone. On Saturday, we knocked on 25,000 doors."

Harmer also thinks that despite the Democrats' huge cash infusion into the 11th District in the final week, the uncounted ballots could send him to Washington, D.C., with the 61 other Republicans who won Democratic-held House seats across the country.

"We were doing very well in vote-by-mail returns," Harmer said. "There are a great deal of uncounted vote-by-mail ballots, so I am pretty confident that we can win."

Neither candidate would speculate about the prospects of a recount, saying they would wait for the final numbers.

In other close East Bay contests:

  • Antioch school board: Joy Motts led Jack Yeager by four votes for the second open seat.

  • Antioch City Council: Arne Simonsen trailed Gary Agopian by 70 votes for the second open seat. Simonsen, a councilman from 2000 to 2008, narrowly lost a council seat two years ago.

  • Knightsen school district: Its bond measure was failing by a few votes. Measure N, which requires a 55 percent majority, had the support of 54.4 percent of voters.

  • Martinez: Councilwoman Lara Delaney was ahead by a scant 66 votes over challenger Kathi McLaughlin in the fight for the second-place spot.

  • Orinda: Councilwoman Sue Severson was holding onto her seat by 59 votes over challenger Scott Zeller for the third council opening.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or www.ibabuzz.com/politics. Follow her at Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.