Amid complaints that the count is proceeding too slowly, Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said his office has 28,281 more ballots to tally from the Nov. 6 election — almost as many as the 32,715 that have already been counted.
This new official number is higher than an estimate of 18,000 to 23,000 remaining ballots that Tuteur gave last week.
The new figure raises turnout in Napa County to 84 percent of the 72,592 registered voters, which mirrors the 84 percent of voters that turned out in 2008.
Tuteur, who delivered the news to the Napa County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, said he hopes to have the final election results released the week of Nov. 26.
Tuteur admitted that he’s come under criticism for the slow process of counting ballots, which prompted Supervisor Diane Dillon to question whether he could hire additional people to speed up the counting.
Tuteur said his office did hire additional help this election cycle, but adding any more people would mean finding more space for them to work. He said the terminals where workers prepare ballots for counting in the county’s Elections Division are at capacity.
“We only have so many terminals,” Tuteur said. “We would have to expand our office.”
Supervisor Bill Dodd said that he understood Tuteur’s explanation, but he was disappointed in the slow process and felt it failed residents, who want to know the results.
“They need to know,” Dodd said. “I think people are saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’”
Tuteur replied that he “would rather be slow than wrong.”
On Tuesday, Tuteur also released a statement saying that issuing more interim counts between Election Night and the final results wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“We do not interrupt the careful steps that we take during the canvass to release interim unofficial results,” Tuteur said. “Interim unofficial results have no bearing on the final outcome of races.”
Tuteur said his office has 25,000 outstanding vote-by-mail ballots to count, 2,000 ballots that weren’t counted in the ballot-counting machine and need to be duplicated to ensure that residents’ votes count, and 1,281 provisional ballots that can’t be processed until rosters from polling places have been entered and signatures from all 25,000 vote-by-mail ballots are verified.
He said the process of counting these votes will begin Wednesday and will continue until Nov. 28, with a break for the Thanksgiving holiday next week.
“We do take every single vote seriously,” Tuteur told the supervisors. “We had an incredibly smooth election night. I hear what you’re saying, I just haven’t figured out a way to short-circuit the process.”
As for candidates and citizens awaiting the final results — some more patiently than others — Tuteur said the early returns serve as a good indicator for how the late returns will break.
In races that are separated by more than 50 votes at the end of Election Night, Tuteur said the results are statistically unlikely to change once the remaining ballots are counted.
“Think of an opinion poll,” Tuteur said in the statement. “In a national poll perhaps 1,500 likely voters are asked how they are planning to vote. The poll results are used to project how more than 100 million voters will decide on Election Day.”
That explanation offered little comfort to Napa City Councilman Mark van Gorder, who trails closely in his bid to oust Mark Luce from the Board of Supervisors’ 2nd District seat.
If District 2 replicates the countywide turnout of 84 percent, that would mean 13,020 voters cast ballots out of the 15,500 registered voters in the district. The Elections Division has counted 6,453 ballots in the race, and Luce leads by 255 votes.
That would leave 6,567 ballots left. A swing of five percentage points in his favor would be enough to put him on top, van Gorder said.
Van Gorder said having to wait until the end of the month to know whether he’s won a campaign he started in July 2011 has caused him no shortage of consternation.
“I think John Tuteur has stock in Tums,” van Gorder joked. “He must have been making a bundle on Rolaids these days.”
He added that he believes staff in the Elections Division has done an excellent job, but wishes a new and quicker method of counting ballots could be developed.
Luce said he believed his lead will hold, despite the late returns. Last week, Tuteur projected that Luce’s lead was wide enough to defeat van Gorder, and Luce said he agreed with that analysis.
“I think statistically we look very good,” Luce said. “We’ve got a pretty good sampling of what’s out there. I’m not really worried about it.”
Luce said he felt that find a quicker method to count ballots should be examined, but agreed with Tuteur’s preference not to release interim counts after Election Night.
“I certainly understand where he’s coming from,” Luce said. “Early leads change. The question is, could we get them faster? That’s a discussion I think we need to have.”
Without knowing the final results, van Gorder said his life is largely on hold.
“Right now I need to make the assumption that if (Luce’s lead) hold I’m going back to work and Mark Luce is going to be a county supervisor for 20 years,” van Gorder said. “This kind of delay just doesn’t serve people well. As a candidate I think all you need to know is, did we win or lose? It’s the not knowing. The not knowing is just the worst.”