Thursday, June 21, 2018

UPDATE: Madrone's Fifth District Lead Seems Insurmountable

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 3:54 PM

click to enlarge Fifth District challenger Steve Madrone (left), pictured at an election night party, has grown his lead in the Fifth. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Fifth District challenger Steve Madrone (left), pictured at an election night party, has grown his lead in the Fifth.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders just told the Journal that the only ballots that remain outstanding in the Fifth District are the up-to-315 provisional ballots from Election Day, which still haven't been vetted or counted, and another 16 or so vote by mail ballots that have yet to be scanned. With a maximum of 331 ballots outstanding, Madrone's 103-vote lead looks commanding and the race seems just about over. To pull the race out, Sundberg would need to take almost 66 percent of the ballots that remain to be counted.

The Humboldt County Elections Office just released its first post-election update, which has challenger Steve Madrone growing his lead in the Fifth District over incumbent Ryan Sundberg to 103 votes, or 1.51 percent of the ballots counted thus far.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders said these results still do not include all outstanding ballots in the race. Provisional ballots cast on Election Day — including as many as 315 in the Fifth District — still have not been counted, she said, and some vote-by-mail ballots remain to be tallied, though most of those are from the First and Second supervisorial districts.

When the dust settled on election night, Madrone had jumped out to a slim, 33-vote lead, having taken just 0.69 percent more of the 4,796 votes counted than Sundberg. And that represented an abrupt shift from the election night report that came out just 45 minutes earlier, which had Sundberg holding a 185-vote lead.

In the wake of Election Day, Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders estimated there were anywhere from 1,220 to 2,252 ballots yet to be counted in the Fifth District race. The post-election report adds 2,024 votes to the tally.

In a Journal analysis of the last two Fifth District races, we found that Sundberg seemed to lose steam after the initial vote tallies on Election Day. Historically he has taken about 2 percent fewer of the votes counted after Election Day than those included in the final election night tally. That pattern held true in this race, in which Sundberg finished election night with 49.56 percent of the vote but pulled just 48.07 of the votes tallied since.

The Fifth District nail biter has joined the likes of a handful of elections decided by slim margins. In 2002, Eureka saw Peter LaVallee edge out Cherie Arkley to take the mayor’s seat by 42 votes. Four years later, Jeff Leonard edged out Ron Kuhnel for a Eureka City Council seat by 32 ballots, or 0.4 percent of the vote. When Sundberg took the county’s Fifth District seat back in 2010, he eked out a win over Patrick Cleary by just 154 votes. And most recently, in 2014, Kim Bergel edged out incumbent Eureka City Councilman Mike Newman by just 46 votes in a race that flipped with the post-election results.

While there’s no mechanism for an automatic recount in California law, either candidate or any voter can request one, so long as they are willing to pay the cost, which generally runs well into the thousands of dollars. But in Humboldt County, there’s also another option — the Elections Transparency Project, which runs all ballots cast in the county through an optical scanner, scrubs their images of any identifying marks and makes them available, with open source counting software, to anyone wanting to audit the results. You can find more information — or request those ballot images — at

After the final post-election report, whenever it comes, the results will still need to be certified by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to become final, which is statutorily required to happen before July 6. The Secretary of State will then certify statewide results by July 13.

The post-election report did not shift any other local races. View the full report here, and see past Journal coverage of the Fifth District race and why it takes weeks for the elections office to produce a final tally here.
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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