The outcomes of the extremely close, nail-biting races in San Luis Obispo County may not be known for at least two weeks, with nearly 25,000 ballots left to be counted.
County elections staff hopes to finish counting most of the remaining 21,715 mail-in ballots by Friday and then start counting the about 2,612 provisional ballots next week, Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said Wednesday.
An additional 621 ballots were not processed on election night.
“It’s long days of waiting for candidates,” she said. “It’s not over until we finish counting.”
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The counting takes more time because signatures must be checked on every ballot. Results will be updated daily on the clerk-recorder’s website.
Tuesday’s unofficial election results show that nearly 42.1 percent of the county’s 150,139 registered voters cast a ballot. But the turnout will increase as those remaining ballots are counted.
Fourth District Supervisor Caren Ray, who lost her seat to challenger Lynn Compton, said she thinks the low voter turnout was a big factor in her loss.
“I was shocked at the turnout,” Ray said.
More than 60,000 mail-in ballots were returned — about 63 percent of the approximately 95,000 sent out.
The close races include three Paso Robles City Council candidates vying for a second seat; the Pismo Beach mayoral and City Council races; and Grover Beach’s $48 million bond measure for street rehabilitation.
In addition, two school board races — in Paso Robles and Shandon — were close. In both races, three seats were up for grabs.
In the Paso Robles school district race, 67 votes separate Kathleen Hall, who has 18.9 percent of the vote, from Kirk Smith, with 18.5 percent.
In Shandon, five votes separate third-place finisher Shannon Plaisted, who garnered 23.4 percent of the vote, from Jennifer Moe, with 22.3 percent (and only seven votes separate the second-place finisher, Robert Van Partlet, from Plaisted).
Grover Beach bond barely failing
Grover Beach’s Measure K, which needs a two-thirds vote (66.7 percent) to pass, was narrowly failing with 66.3 percent of voters in support. Jeff Lee, a councilman and member of a committee supporting the measure to fund street repairs, said he’s hopeful that the outstanding ballots tilt in the measure’s favor.
“It’s encouraging that the community has come out with as much support as they have,” Lee said, “and now we have to hope that we finish it.”
If the bond fails, he said the City Council would continue to put as much money as it can toward street projects, but the amount would not improve the roads “to the level and with the timeliness that Measure K would do.”
Grover Beach Mayor-elect John Shoals, who beat current Mayor Debbie Peterson, added: “We knew it was going to be a tough job … from the start. But whether it passes or not, I want to let everyone know that we will continue to work to improve the road situation in Grover Beach.”
Write-in narrows gap in Arroyo Grande
When early returns were announced shortly after 8 p.m., Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara had a large lead over write-in challenger Jim Hill — 61 percent to Hill’s 39 percent.
But with 100 percent of the city’s 12 precincts reporting, Hill had narrowed that gap, trailing 45.5 percent to Ferrara’s 54.5 percent. They are now separated by 386 votes, according to unofficial election results, and 2,095 ballots remain to be counted.
Also, Rodewald noted Wednesday, not all of the write-in votes may go to Hill.
“There have been other names written in, I can verify that,” she said. “It’s not a lot, but there were others.”
In addition, 717 ballots counted Tuesday did not have a vote for mayor — a bubble was not filled in — and will not be reviewed unless someone asks the Clerk-Recorder’s Office for a recount after the election results have been certified.
Too close to call in Paso Robles
In the Paso Robles City Council race, incumbent John Hamon has so far taken a clear lead in a tight contest among five candidates for two open seats.
As of Wednesday, seven votes separate second-place finisher and incumbent Duane Picanco, with 1,930 votes, from newcomer Jim Reed with 1,923. Also as of Wednesday, 30 votes separated Picanco from newcomer Pam Avila. Meanwhile, Planning Commissioner Steve Gregory trailed in fourth place, 136 votes behind Picanco.
Reed had a similar showing in the 2012 election, when he barely lost a seat on the council to incumbent Fred Strong. Even with the close margins, Reed says he remains hopeful but is also disappointed at the low turnout.
“When I look at how many people voted, I think, ‘Are people really that despondent?’ ” Reed said. “I ran to say, ‘People, c’mon. You’ve got to keep involved,’ and that’s the disappointing part — that that’s the mentality of the people.”
After the council race is determined, the seated members will need to hold a special election or appoint someone to serve out the remaining two years on Councilman Steve Martin’s seat, because he’s moving to the mayoral seat midterm.
Gregory said he would pursue that position if the votes don’t tip in his favor this election.
“I would actively get involved in the interview process if it goes to that,” he said. “I just want to stay involved.”
Gregory’s concerns have focused on instilling stronger leadership in the council. On Wednesday, he said he would specifically look to give city staff and City Manager Jim App more direction on creating policy based on the public’s input.
Avila and Picanco could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Slim lead in Pismo Beach
In Pismo Beach, Mayor Shelly Higginbotham has a slim lead over challenger Kevin Kreowski.
Two of the four council candidates running for two seats, incumbent Mary Ann Reiss and newcomer Marcia Guthrie, were tied at 24.6 percent, with 1,084 votes each.
As of Tuesday night, newcomer Sheila Blake had the lead in the council race, and incumbent Kris Vardas was in last place.
“I’m just holding my breath,” Higginbotham said Wednesday. “It’s too close to call.”
When asked about the close results, with the challengers receiving such strong support, Higginbotham said voters may have felt they needed a change.
“But I would certainly be remiss in not saying that there is concern about what the council’s intention was toward potential development in Price Canyon,” Higginbotham added.
The incumbent council members did not approve some documents needed for a massive hotel and residential project called Spanish Springs to move forward.
But they did approve an environmental impact report and some amendments to the city’s General Plan for that area. Even though the council later rescinded its actions, some residents believed it was pushing ahead with the development over significant opposition.
A tie between Reiss and Guthrie is unlikely, as there are still 855 mail-in and provisional ballots to count.
But if two candidates are still tied after all the votes are counted, then the elections code specifies that the outcome is determined by drawing lots — such as flipping a coin, Pismo Beach City Clerk Elaina Cano said.
“Because there are so many uncounted ballots at this point, I really can’t even imagine that we’d get to that point,” Cano added.
Rodewald said the county experienced its first tie in her 20-year tenure in 2012 in a San Miguel Community Services District race. That race was decided when each candidate drew lots to see who won.