UPDATE: Ballots still being counted in supervisor race for second place

The five remaining candidates for the District 1 seat of the

A new update to the last Tuesday’s primary election for Santa
Clara County Supervisor District 1 separates the candidates vying
for second place and a bid in November’s election by just 32
votes.
A new update to the last Tuesday’s primary election for Santa Clara County Supervisor District 1 separates the candidates vying for second place and a bid in November’s election by just 32 votes.

With roughly 7,000 provisional ballots in Santa Clara County left to be counted, just 32 votes put former San Jose Councilman Forrest Williams, 73, (11,657 votes) ahead of nonprofit executive Teresa Alvarado, 45, (11,625 votes) in the race to take on Los Gatos councilman Mike Wasserman who dominated the bid with 43 percent of the vote. The winner in November’s election will replace Republican Don Gage who has held the post for 14 years.

Not too often is a second-place runoff the object of small talk, but the two vastly different candidates are now center stage as they await the final results from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters – a chore that could likely weeks. The last update by the Registrar came at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday. Only 350 ballots were counted from Friday to Wednesday; apparently there were more vote-by-mail ballots than first projected.

“This is really when our work starts, is after (the election),” said Elma Rosas, a spokeswoman for the Registrar.

It is estimated 10,000 ballots remain, 7,000 of which are provisional and the remaining are vote-by-mail that were dropped off at precincts June 8. Vote-by-mail ballots are scanned to verify the voter’s signature while provisional ballots require more thorough and stringent study. It’s likely 80 percent of what is left to be counted will pass muster at the Registrar. Votes from South County are usually the last to be tallied just as any other outlying regions, Rosas said.

“We have to do research for every single one,” Rosas said Monday. “The action taken is dependent on the circumstance.”

One example Rosas gave was if a voter had moved and voted at a polling place in their new neighborhood they would be required to use a provisional ballot and thus, research is needed to verify the stray address and signature. Also, first-time voters fall under the provisional umbrella, as do people who lost or botched their ballots, are not on the polling place list for an unknown reason or are vote-by-mail voters but instead cast their ballot at a polling place. Rosas said between 10 and 60 full-time and temporary employees were counting provisional ballots. She did no know many ballots were left to be counted just in District 1, which accounts for 299 of 1,177 precincts in Santa Clara County.

“It frustrates a lot of people, especially when you have a close race,” said San Jose State University political science professor Terry Christensen.

Voting by mail instead of in-person at polling places is a growing trend; in this election 32 percent voted by mail compared to 10 percent at the polls.

“It seems like the time has come to look again at how we vote,” Christensen said.

One suggestion he had that may expedite the process is to ask voters who bring their vote-by-mail ballots to turn into their precinct to instead copy their ballot there and destroy the vote-by-mail ballot. This solution would assure those votes are counted that evening as precinct votes and not several days later as vote-by-mail.

Monday, Alvarado sent out an e-mail to her supporters titled “Still counting …” In it she said she was hopeful for a final count in her favor.

She wrote by e-mail Monday to the Times that, “I am eagerly awaiting the next set of numbers,” she said. “I believe I did well in the South County and hope that is reflected in the next update.”

Her consultant said it is premature to say if a recount of the votes is in order.

Williams who has served on the San Jose Planning Commission and VTA board has said he is ready to move forward to November’s election.

“I’m confident that the numbers are solid,” Williams said. The last update came Monday at 4 p.m.

District 1, which has a population of more than 330,000 and encompasses about 800,000 acres – or 70 percent of the county – is the largest geographical district. It includes Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Los Gatos, Almaden Valley, Santa Teresa and Blossom Valley, as well as the Mt. Hamilton Range and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Just 24.8 percent of District 1’s eligible voters participated in Tuesday’s election – a far cry from general elections counts, which have surpassed 60 percent.

“They all did a good job. They held as much as they could to a clean campaign,” said Gage, who endorsed Wasserman. “It will be interesting to watch the runoff.”

Wasserman commanded the race with 25,716 votes and just missed the needed majority vote by about 7 percent to capture the District 1 race and void the second-place race. He is now in the planning stages of how to combat Williams or Alvarado in November.

“I’m formulating strategies. Both are very different opponents but the bottom line is my message: What I’ve done, what I’m capable of doing,” Wasserman said Monday. Wasserman pulled in nearly as many votes as Alvarado and Williams combined. He has been a Los Gatos city councilman and rotating mayor, a financial planner and business owner.

“That’s what got me to 43 percent of the votes … My message is the same. I’m who I am and I bring forth the quality and qualifications for county supervisor,” he said.

At final count of vote-by-mail ballots, fourth-place winery owner Tom Kruse won 11 percent or 6,723 votes. Gilroy city councilman Peter Arellano won 8 percent of 4,846 votes.

It’s worth pointing out that twice as many people will vote in November in the general election and many more Democrats and minorities, Christensen said. The large margin that spread Wasserman from Williams and Alvarado will likely shrink.

Check www.gilroydispatch.com for the latest vote count as the information becomes available.

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