A Flip in the Second

With latest vote tally, challenger Michelle Bushnell holds a razor-thin 34-vote lead


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The Humboldt County Elections Office issued its second post-election report Nov. 13, adding about 10,000 ballots to the ongoing tally and turning the race to be Humboldt County's next Second District supervisor into an absolute nail-biter.

With 10,016 votes counted this far in the race, challenger Michelle Bushnell now leads two-term incumbent Estelle Fennell by 34 votes, having taken 50.17 percent of the vote to Fennell's 49.83 percent. But with an estimated more than 7,000 ballots yet to be counted countywide — including an unknown number in the Second District — the race remains very much a toss up.

With 7,171 ballots counted in the last Election Day report, Fennell held a 239-vote lead that was already narrowing. While Fennell had taken 54 percent of vote-by-mail ballots turned in early, Bushnell took 65 percent of early voting and in-person votes on Election Day.

But Election Day passed with an estimated 22,000 ballots yet to be counted — a mix of vote-by-mail ballots received just prior to or on Election Day, provisional ballots cast at the polls and ballots from overseas voters or that came in damaged somehow. So far, those ballots have 2,845 votes to the Second District race, of which Bushnell has taken 55 percent. But with so many variables in this pandemic election year, it's very hard to guess whether that pattern will hold as the last ballots are tallied.

But the Second District's is not the only race hanging on a razor-thin margin. Down in Ferndale, former Mayor Don Hindley continues to hold a narrow lead — 20 votes — over challenger Robin Smith in the race to be mayor, with 768 votes counted in the race so far.

When the dust settled on election night, it was Hindley trailing in the race. While Hindley had taken 75 percent of the in-person vote at the polls, Smith rode a large vote-by-mail ballot advantage — 53 percent to Hindley's 47 percent — to an early 11-vote lead. But Hindley has taken 60 percent of vote-by-mail ballots counted since, pushing him ahead in the race to retain his seat. But like the Second District, it's unclear how many Ferndale ballots remain in those left for the county to count, so the race remains too close to call.

Higher up on the ballot, the race for president seems to be following some national trends while bucking another. President Donald Trump — who decried voting by mail in the lead up to the election and urged his supporters to vote in person at the polls — took 54 percent of Humboldt County's Election Day voting and 59 percent of ballots cast early and in person at the Elections Office. But former Vice President and now President-elect Joe Biden took 72 percent of vote-by-mail ballots counted in advance of Election Day and finished the night with 68 percent of the ballots counted at that point. But contrary to what's played out in other states, Trump has fared better in vote-by-mail ballots counted after Election Day, taking 35 percent to Biden's 62 percent.

To date, the Humboldt County Elections Office has processed and counted 57,225 ballots, which would equate to a turnout of 67 percent of registered voters. If the roughly 7,000 ballots that remain to be processed and counted are, in fact, valid, that would push turnout to about 75 percent of registered voters, or 62 percent of those eligible.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders has said her office plans to update results every Friday until all ballots have been counted, so expect the next post-election report to be released Nov. 20 and check for full results.

's news editor and can be reached at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.


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