Reminder to candidates and their teams: If you're going to be throwing an election party this Tuesday night, don't skimp on the hors d'oeuvres and book your hall late. With one notable exception, the county in recent years has gotten used to getting its final election results by 10 p.m. or so. No more.
In response to security concerns, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen completely revamped vote-tabulating procedures across the state a couple of months ago. Though Bowen's rules don't strictly take effect until next year's presidential primary, Humboldt County has decided to go ahead and do things the onerous way this time around. It's uncharted territory, but realistically you're looking at no final results until at least 11 p.m., probably quite a bit later.
Bowen has decreed that vote tabulating machines out in the precincts should no longer "phone home" to deliver results to elections central. Instead, the machines must be physically delivered to home base -- in this case, the county elections office in Henderson Center, Eureka -- before their tallies are taken. In practice, this is going to be clumsy, especially since the county has never done it before. The county is setting up waypoints at police stations and sheriff's substations throughout the county. Machines will be delivered from the precincts to the waypoints, and from the waypoints they will be gathered into a van and driven north. Once they're home, the machines and assorted elections paraphernalia will have to be examined and inventoried before the computer-assisted tabulation can proceed.
Otherwise, everything will appear similar to the naked eye. The county elections website will update totals periodically throughout the night, beginning with the absentee results as soon as polls close. It's just that things will move more slowly from there. Presumably, Eureka votes will be counted first, as those precincts are physically closest to the office. Next, Arcata, McKinleyville and Fortuna will work their way into the system. Outlying districts will take longer. Probably much longer.
What does this mean for the all-enveloping Bay District races? Well, it's not going to be early-early, but everyone could get an idea fairly quickly. The absentees themselves will tell part of the tale -- countywide, the absentee vote has been running between 30 and 40 percent or the total, according to county Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich. Presumably that ratio gets higher the farther you travel into the sticks, and both the Fifth and Second Division have plenty of sticks. But there'll be no real indication until the Fortuna and McKinleyville boxes are counted, and that's already in the third wave of things. If Fortuna and McK leave us with a white-knuckler, then it will be a very late night indeed.
So keep those parties rolling. Make plans to call in sick Wednesday. But Crnich promised that whatever the case, none of her staff will be going home until all the precincts are counted.