Surprise! A last-minute surge of mail-in ballots means the election in Santa Clara County isn't over and some close races -- such as the tight contest for district attorney -- could still change outcomes, the Registrar of Voters office confirmed today.
Media Officer Elma Rosas said the office has about 93,500 ballots still to count -- a total large enough to shift results of some tight local races. She said she hopes to have 99 percent of them counted by Friday.
The office was inundated with about 70,000 "mail-in" ballots that arrived on election day by way of precincts, drop-off sites and mail, Rosas said. In addition, there are 16,000 mail-in ballots that arrived earlier but haven't been counted and about 7,500 "provisional" ballots that need individual research.
The volume of uncounted ballots means close races such as the district attorney contest and even the Democratic primary race for the 21st Assembly District could shift outcomes.
The total of mail-in ballots also represents a major shift in how Americans vote, with an estimated 71 percent of registered voters in the county -- nearly 540,000 individuals -- signed up to receive mail-in ballots. This compares to a relatively small number of voters in the past who requested "absentee ballots," she noted, adding that not all who receive mail-in ballots send them back.
Just under 160,000 ballots had been returned as of June 6, and early mail-in results were among the first vote totals to be announced Tuesday night.
The volume of mail-in voting was not a total surprise. The big shift to mail-in ballots occurred in the November 2008 election when Barack Obama was elected president, Rosas said. But the volume of last-minute mail-ins is a challenge, she said.
"We encourage people to mail them in early so they can be counted by election day," she said.
A small army of workers is tackling the piles of ballots and the registrar's office will post periodic updates of the results on the registrar's website as groups of ballots are counted, Rosas said.
"We plan to have 99 percent counted by Friday," she said. The final 1 percent are ballots that need special attention and the office has 28 days from the election day to certify the election, making the vote totals official.
"It's not over till it's over -- that's what they say," Rosas said of even the last 1 percent.