The outcome of the tense campaign between Rep. Jerry McNerney and Republican challenger David Harmer to represent the Lodi area in Congress remains too close to call. A former Republican operative says the election will be decided by which candidate did the better job of monitoring absentee voters during the final month of the election. Since as many as half of voters cast their votes by mail these days, Steve Ding says you no longer have “election day.” Instead, you have “election month.”
Ding, chief of staff for McNerney’s predecessor in Congress, Richard Pombo, said that once absentee ballots were mailed out in early October, campaign workers should have been on the phone and at voters’ doors to encourage them to vote for their candidate.
That’s why counting those absentee and so-called “provisional ballots” this week is so important in the 11th Congressional District. The four counties in the 11th District — San Joaquin, Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara — had about 376,000 ballots left to count, as of last Friday, according to The Associated Press.
On Friday, McNerney led Harmer by 441 votes. Erdman said he will have an updated tally by Wednesday night or Thursday morning. The outcome may not be decided before Thanksgiving, according to Austin Erdman, San Joaquin County’s registrar of voters.
Most ballots were counted by machine, but some must be processed separately for any number of reasons. They may have been damaged, incorrectly marked, had liquid spilled on them or the bubbles were marked incorrectly, said Alexia Smith-Payne, an elections technician supervisor for the registration and vote-by-mail department.
Or someone may have taken an absentee ballot, failed to mail it and turned it in to a polling place. Or someone voted for one candidate, then crossed it out and voted for a different candidate. These kinds of ballots must also be processed separately after election night, Smith-Payne said.
In his observations thus far, McNerney volunteer Dick Archbold said that more people changed their vote on the state propositions than on individual candidates.
Ballots that need this special attention are being re-created so that the voting machine can read them, Archbold said.
The registrar’s office will be open about 12 hours a day, even on Veterans Day and weekends. Attorneys and volunteers for both candidates are watching the count like a hawk.
While election tallies have been marked with controversy in recent years in states like Florida and Ohio, representatives from both major parties have nothing but good things to say about Erdman and his staff.
“Austin is very, very meticulous,” said Sarah Blicharz, who is recruiting and training volunteers for Harmer.
Archbold, a Stockton resident for 27 years before recently moving to Sacramento, echoed similar comments about Erdman.
Archbold was at a table with other McNerney volunteers at the beginning stage of the tabulations on Monday. They watched election workers separate damaged ballots and put them in a separate stack for processing at another stage of the process.
Harmer attorneys and volunteers will spend 12 hours a day beginning Monday watching elections staff process the late ballots, Blicharz said. Harmer has about 10 volunteers in the Stockton registrar’s office.
“I’ve got volunteers on three-hour shifts,” Blicharz said. “A lot of people are committed to getting the vote done accurately.”
Archbold, who said he will use his attorney skills if they’re needed, has committed himself to volunteering for McNerney from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for this week only. Then he’ll decide what to do.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.