As this issue of the Journal went to press Nov. 10, a week after Election Day, Humboldt County still had approximately 17,500 ballots left to process — roughly 38 percent of all ballots cast in the election.
Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders told the Journal that her office plans to release updated vote tallies every Friday until the full canvass is complete. The first such release Nov. 6 included almost 5,000 ballots, bringing the total counted to date to 46,542.
Local voters faced a lengthy ballot this election. In addition to the presidential race — 67 percent of Humboldt voters are so far tilting Joe Biden to Donald Trump's 30 percent — the ballot included nine local measures, a supervisorial runoff in the Second District, 14 school board races, more than two dozen candidates vying for seats across four special districts and 38 candidates racing for seats on one of seven city councils. (See full results for all races as they're posted at www.northcoastjournal.com.)
All the local measures — which asked voters to weigh in on everything from ranked choice voting in Eureka to the county's ability to finance and build affordable housing — are on track to pass. Perhaps most surprising here is Measure F, which would impose a flat property tax on parcels in the Arcata Fire Protection District to generate an estimated $1.9 million in annual revenue — it's passing with 75 percent of the vote after voters rejected an identical measure back in March.
As returns continue to roll out, the races to watch are in the county's Second District and down in Ferndale.
In the Second District, two-term incumbent Estelle Fennell holds a sliming lead over challenger Michelle Bushnell. Fennell, who finished election night with a 239-vote lead over Bushnell, currently sits with a 197-vote advantage, having taken 51 percent of the 8,169 ballots remaining to be counted. While votes tabulated after Election Day typically follow a pattern — trending closer to the Election Day vote than the vote-by-mail ballots cast prior — the pandemic nature of this election, which led most of the electorate to vote by mail, makes it difficult to know if this election will follow course. So far, Fennell has led in vote-by-mail ballots, taking 53 percent of them, while Bushnell has fared better at the precincts and in early voting, where she took 65 and 62 percent of the votes, respectively.
A similar dynamic is playing out in Ferndale, where former Mayor Don Hindley holds a razor thin eight-vote lead over challenger Robin Smith with 674 votes counted so far. Hindley took 75 percent of the vote at the polls on Election Day, but Smith has taken 55 percent of vote-by-mail ballots thus far.
Of the votes that remain to be counted, Sanders said a little more than 14,000 are vote-by-mail ballots and 2,600 are provisional ballots that still need to be verified. Another 850 are vote-by-mail ballots that need to be duplicated by elections staff because they have food spilled on them, identifying marks, the voter used whiteout to correct a vote or they were faxed from overseas voters. It's just hard to know how all those will break.
If the remaining 17,500 ballots all turnout to be valid, that would mean 64,042 Humboldt County voters participated in this election — roughly 75 percent of registered voters or 62 percent of those eligible. For comparison's sake, 60,983 Humboldt County votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election — a 74-percent turnout of registered voters.
As required by law, before the Elections Office can continue counting ballots, it must first sort and audit those cast at polling locations to make sure that there were no problems on Election Day and that the final election night report was accurate. Access Humboldt announced Nov. 10 that those interested can view a live stream of the manual ballot audit process at www.youtube.com/AccessHumboldt/live.