The Humboldt County Election Office was slammed at the lunch hour. Citizens were dropping off ballots as the phones rang and rang, while a beefed-up elections staff scurried from place to place carrying sheafs of papers. County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich was down in the basement with the tabulation equipment, fiddling with a computer in preparation for the count to come.
There had been a couple of minor snafus that morning. A school lockdown in McKinleyville interrupted voting at Morris Elementary for about 15 minutes at around 9 a.m. More seriously, it turned out that ballots for two precincts -- Loleta and the Ferndale outskirts -- had been printed upside-down. The tabulation machines would not accept them. Crnich estimated that around 100 votes were cast at these locations before the problem was corrected. Those votes would have to be transferred to new ballots before they could be counted.
At noon, the office had about 1,500 absentee and vote-by-mail ballots that would not be counted on election night. That compared with about 12,000 votes that had already been delivered and counted, and which would be released shortly after polls closed.
At around 7:30 p.m., Gallegos campaign strategist Richard Salzman led a dwindling team of phone-bankers still trying to get voters to the polls. The lights were out at Jackson H.Q. Earlier in the day, while rallying with her supporters at the courthouse, Jackson said that her people would not be conducting and extensive Get Out The Vote campaign. They had gotten their message to the people and that should have been enough, she said.
Then the first results were posted, and they brought ghastly news for area progressives. Absentee ballots always skew conservative, but these were particularly so. Jackson had opened up a 17-point lead over Gallegos; Bass a 29-point lead over Neely; every Eureka city race showed conservative candidates with very healthy leads.
The Eureka City Council meeting ran long during the night, continuing right on through the first round of results. Fourth District Supervisorial candidate Virginia Bass was presiding over the meeting as mayor; councilmembers Larry Glass and Frank Jager, both of them on the ballot, were trapped there as well. Candidates Ron Kuhnel and Marian Brady came through council chambers before moving out to their parties.
"It's election night -- I gotta see what's goin' on," Kuhnel said. To which Bass responded, "Let us know, will ya?"
About an hour later, the meeting was over and Glass was on his way out to the car. The absentee results showed him trailing challenger Marian Brady 64-36.
"Sounds pretty grim," Glass said.
"Is this surprising to you?" a reporter asked.
"I certainly didn't go into this expecting to lose."
"Is there still time to turn it around?"
"I dunno. That sounds pretty bad." He climbed into his car and took off.
The only person bucking the trend on the left side of the aisle was Fifth District Supervisorial candidate Patrick Cleary, who trailed his opponent, Ryan Sundberg, by about two and a half points -- a safe place to be at, given the absentees' typical conservative skew. "It's a good sign," Cleary said upon arriving to his campaign party at Six Rivers in McKinleyville.
Meanwhile, over at Eureka's Avalon, a crowd of about 40 celebrated their candidates' early leads. Richard Marks, Supervisorial candidate Virginia Bass' campaign manager, was ecstatic at the early returns. "This isn't a referendum, it's a demand," Marks said.
Bass herself was only cautiously optimistic, despite a nearly 30-point lead over incumbent Bonnie Neely. "It's a small percentage of votes, but it's looking good," she said. Likewise, Eureka Mayoral candidate Frank Jager didn't let his 25-point lead rile him too much. "It looks really positive," he said. "It's preliminary, but there's more and more people voting absentee. We won't really know anything until the second and third waves come in."
"I fucking hate politics," said Joan Gallegos, the incumbent district attorney's wife, at the candidate's Lost Coast Brewery shindig.