Election Day is over and the waiting continues to learn the outcome of a variety of Napa County races.
A hotel tax hike in the unincorporated county to raise money for affordable housing is barely losing. Calistoga City Council candidates Gary Kraus and James Barnes are tied. St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith has a slight lead over challenger Geoff Ellsworth.
David Oro leads Pierre Washington by seven votes for an American Canyon City Council seat. Jeff Dodd has a 52-vote lead over incumbent Amy Martenson for a Napa Valley College board seat, a margin that isn’t decisive.
The election night total of 21,774 ballots counted in Napa County proved too little to call these contests, not when thousands of ballots remain uncounted.
“My guess, I’m hoping as many as 35,000, which would be wonderful,” Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said on Wednesday. “That would be a huge turnout for a mid-term election.”
The possible outcomes of the close races could become clearer on Friday afternoon. Tuteur said the Election Division could have another 8,000 to 10,000 ballots counted by then.
Further reports are scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, by which point 90 percent of the votes could be counted, Tuteur said. Then no more counts will be released until the week of Nov. 26 when the election is certified.
When the various races can be called depends on the trends with the coming counts. If a contest continues to come down to just a few votes of separation, the outcome won’t be known until certification.
Voters received their ballots by mid-October for the vote-by-mail election and from then until Election Day could mail them in or drop them off at vote centers and drop boxes. A sizable number of people apparently waited until the last few days to act.
A postal worker delivered six tubs of ballots to the Election Division at 10 p.m. election night, Tuteur said. The Napa vote center at CrossWalk Community Church had 82 people in line when polls closed at 8 p.m., so they just made the deadline. The American Canyon library vote center had a line of 50 people.
Tuteur sees all of this as signs that a late surge will lead to a good turnout. He attributes the interest in the election to national issues.
“We had a lot of first-time voters at our office, at the voter centers,” Tuteur said. “There was a very marked energy from younger voters we haven’t seen in the past.”
Napa County has 78,135 registered voters. If the number of uncounted ballots is as high as 35,000, the turnout could top 70 percent. That compares to 55 percent for the last gubernatorial race in 2014.
Out of all the unsettled issues on the local ballot, the proposal by local civic leaders to raise the transient occupancy tax paid by lodgers by 1 percent for affordable housing is unique.
The goal by backers is to raise the tax from 12 percent to 13 percent throughout the county, so the tax remains uniform at all hotels and lodgings. But to do so, ballot measures must pass in each jurisdiction. Otherwise, the tax will be higher where it does pass and lower where it fails.
That means passing individual measures in Napa, American Canyon, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville. In addition, a separate measure must pass throughout the county –including in the cities – for the unincorporated area. People in cities voted on both their city measure and on the county measure.
The Measure I county measure has 13,887 “yes” votes and 6,972 “no” votes, which means it leads 66.58 percent to 33.42 percent. That is just short of the two-thirds vote—66.66 percent—needed to pass.
Meanwhile, the Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville measures appear to have safe leads. But the American Canyon measure has 1,192 “yes” votes and 703 “no” votes for a 62.9-percent-to-37.1-percent lead, short of two-thirds.
That suggests defeat for the American Canyon transient occupancy tax hike. But defeat is not a mathematical certainty with those uncounted ballots.
“That’s a pretty big margin down there … but there are still a lot of votes to count,” Tuteur said.