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Cervantes Holds Slim Lead, Bongio and Watson Voted Out

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With city council seats open in Ferndale and Trinidad and everywhere between, Humboldt County voters hit the polls Tuesday, seemingly in relatively modest numbers, and much like the national results, there didn't seem to be any decisive waves to speak of.

When the Humboldt County Elections Office released its final Election Night report, it included 16,998 ballots — accounting for about 20 percent of registered voters. That number surely leaves thousands of votes uncounted, as it doesn't include scores of vote-by-mail ballots dropped off on and just before Election Day, or provisional ballots cast at the polls. But it's almost 13,000 fewer ballots than were counted on Election Night in November of 2018.

The large number of uncounted ballots will likely leave some races teetering in the balance for days and weeks to come. This seems especially true in Eureka and the race to become Humboldt County's next clerk/recorder/registrar of voters.

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In Eureka's Ward 3, repeat candidate and local accountant John Fullerton and local union representative and Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee Chair Mario Fernandez are vying to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Fourth District Humboldt County Supervisor elect Natalie Arroyo. Fernandez jumped out to a slim lead with the night's first report, taking 51 percent of the 355 votes counted to Fullerton's 49 percent. But by night's end, Fullerton had pulled ahead by 33 votes, taking 52 percent of the ballots counted thus far. Fullerton's lead is significant, but recent years' trends tell us the ballots counted after election night skew closer to the numbers from the first returns, meaning Fernandez still has a chance to close the gap. Over in Ward 5, where local business owner Nicholas Kohl and community volunteer Renee Contreras-DeLoach were running to fill the shoes of soon-to-be Mayor Kim Bergel, the race was even closer, with Contreras-DeLoach finishing the night with a 15-vote lead, having taken 52 percent of the ballots counted thus far. Both races remain too close to call.

As to the clerk/recorder/registrar race, Elections Manager Juan Pablo Cervantes finished the night with a razor thin 185-vote lead over senior recordable document examiner Tiffany Hunt Nielsen, with more than 14,700 votes counted thus far. Cervantes took 53 percent of the first Election Night return, so history tells us his lead will likely hold, but the race also remains far too close to call.

Up in Arcata, where a field of six were vying for two four-year terms on the council during a time of major transition for the city, incumbent Meredith Matthews and Planning Commissioner Kimberly White won easily, taking 32 percent and 30 percent of the vote, respectively. The race spells the end of embattled Councilmember Brett Watson's tenure, as he finished with just 9 percent of the vote and will leave office in December, about seven months after an outside investigation found he sexually harassed a city employee and abused his power as a council member.

Finally, over in the Humboldt Community Services District, voters ousted long-time Director Alan Bongio amid an ongoing controversy sparked in his role as a Humboldt County planning commissioner. With two seats up in the election, Bongio, a 24-year incumbent, finished with 28 percent of the vote, trailing fellow incumbent Gregg Gardiner and challenger Julie M. Ryan, who finished with 40 percent and 33 percent of the vote, respectively. Bongio's loss comes three months after he drew widespread criticism for comments made while acting as chair of the Humboldt County Planning Commission that fellow commissioners and others described as "biased" against and "racist" toward local Native residents.

View the full preliminary election results below, and check northcoastjournal.com for updates as the final votes are tallied in the coming days and weeks.

— Thadeus Greenson

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