The number of ballots cast for a write-in candidate in Arroyo Grande on Friday surpassed the votes for incumbent Mayor Tony Ferrara — but there are still 387 outstanding ballots left to count in that race.
As of Friday evening, Ferrara had received 49.6 percent of the vote, while votes for a write-in candidate jumped to 50.4 percent. They are separated by 43 votes.
If the current results hold, the outcome would mark a major upset for Ferrara, who has served on the council since 1998.
Arroyo Grande resident Jim Hill had qualified as a write-in candidate, but county elections staff still has to verify that each person who voted for a write-in candidate wrote Hill’s name and not someone else’s name.
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That hand tally of the write-in votes could start later next week, after ballots in other close races are counted, county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said.
Also, 933 blank votes were cast in the mayoral race, meaning that the bubbles next to Ferrara’s name and next to the line for a write-in candidate were left blank. Hill could request those ballots be checked to see if anyone wrote in his name but didn’t mark the bubble, Rodewald said.
“Even if he requests it, we would wait until we finished with the provisional (ballots) and the tally (of the write-in votes), because if he wins based on the tally then there’s no reason to go back and look at the blanks,” Rodewald added.
Hill, who moved to Arroyo Grande about three years ago, decided to run as a write-in candidate after news of an incident involving the city manager and a subordinate became public in August.
The mayoral race may well serve as a referendum on the public’s perception of the council’s response to the July 3 incident, where five Arroyo Grande police officers found the city manager and the community development director alone at City Hall late at night.
The city’s attorney found no policy violations. But the council, faced with mounting anger from the public, decided to hire an independent investigator to review the matter.
Ferrara declined to comment Friday. He has visited an emergency room twice in the last week, including Thursday night, and was unable to attend an election party Tuesday because of a kidney stone.
Hill could not be reached for comment Friday.
Countywide, Rodewald said elections staff counted 10,228 ballots Friday, leaving 5,574 left to tally next week.
So far, the unofficial results show that about 55.2 percent of registered voters cast a ballot on Nov. 4. Arroyo Grande’s turnout was nearly 62 percent.
Other close races
In Grover Beach, Measure K, the $48 million bond measure for street rehabilitation, is still passing with 67.5 percent of voters in favor (it needs a two-thirds vote, or 66.7 percent, to pass). There are 268 ballots left to count.
In Paso Robles, Councilman John Hamon still leads the race for two council seats with 22 percent of the vote, followed by Jim Reed with 19.9 percent.
Mayor Duane Picanco, who is running for a council seat, and Pam Avila are tied, with 19.86 percent of the vote each. Only 10 votes separate them from Reed. There are still 568 votes to count.
Finally, in Pismo Beach, Mayor Shelly Higginbotham’s lead has shrunk to 16 votes, now leading challenger Kevin Kreowski 50.1 percent to 49.6 percent.
In the race for two council seats, newcomer Sheila Blake still has a lead over the three other candidates, with 26.5 percent of the vote.
Incumbent Mary Ann Reiss and newcomer Marcia Guthrie, who were tied after Tuesday’s election, are now separated by 19 votes, with Reiss leading 24.8 percent to 24.5 percent. Councilman Kris Vardas is still in fourth with 23.8 percent.
Updated results are posted at www.slovote.com.