There still are an estimated 100,000 ballots to be counted in Kern County and an update to election results won’t happen until next week, said the county’s top elections official on Wednesday, leaving the outcome of many local races uncertain.
“We are still sorting through the hundreds of bags of provisional and vote by mail ballots that came in from poll sites last night,” Kern County Auditor-Controller and Registration of Voters Mary Bedard wrote in an email Wednesday.
Bedard said that despite a widespread campaign to educate voters that they must surrender their mail-in ballots if they planned to vote at the polls, many did not, which resulted in 30,000 to 40,000 provisional ballots being cast at polls on Tuesday. Those ballots have not yet been counted.
In addition, about 50,000 mail-in ballots that arrived on Saturday and Monday have not yet been tabulated, she said. And many more mail-in ballots that arrived or were dropped off in-person on Tuesday also remain uncounted.
On Wednesday, elections staff were focused on organizing and sorting through the uncounted ballots to make processing efficient, she said.
The large number of uncounted ballots likely explains some eye-popping early results, like the slim margin in the presidential race. President Donald Trump is currently leading in Kern by just 2,000 votes, with 50 percent of the vote compared to Democrat Joe Biden’s 48 percent. In 2016, Trump garnered 53 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent and won by more than 30,000 votes.
While some might see those numbers and think that Kern County has turned purple, it’s worth pointing out that Tuesday’s results show only 143,000 votes cast for president so far whereas about 240,000 were cast for president in 2016.
Republican consultant Cathy Abernathy suspects that margin will widen when all votes are counted.
She said the decision to mail every voter a ballot likely created confusion and led to the enormous amount of uncounted ballots. She said a poll worker told her that about half the people who showed up to one polling location did not have their ballot with them.
“If they hadn’t mailed everyone a mail-in ballot, a poll voter would’ve walked in and voted like they usually do,” Abernathy said. Instead, without a ballot in hand, they had to vote provisionally.
The situation has made the outcome of local races “unpredictable” at this point, Abernathy said.
However, Kern Democratic Party leader Christian Romo was optimistic that so many uncounted ballots will be a boon for Democrats.
“I think Biden might take Kern County,” Romo said. “If (results are) trending the same way they were (on Tuesday night), then Biden takes it.”
Both Romo and Abernathy said some races are unlikely to see major changes. Abernathy felt Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s bid for re-election was all but certain and Romo pointed to “blowouts,” like the Ward 1 seat on the Bakersfield City Council where the Democrats’ endorsed candidate, Eric Arias, held a 76 percent to 24 percent lead over Gilberto De La Torre.
But both said races in smaller outlying communities and school board races, where there are a number of candidates vying for multiple seats, could see major swings as the votes are counted. Some candidates for three seats up for grabs on the Delano City Council are only separated by 20 to 40 votes, Romo said. The same goes for seats on the McFarland, Shafter, Wasco and Maricopa councils.
Abernathy was disappointed to hear it would take so long for another update to results. She recalled getting far more frequent updates in elections that took place decades ago and wondered how that’s not possible with today’s technology.
Bedard previously told The Californian the more updates the Elections Office sends out, the more it slows the actual counting process.
“Each time we issue an update to the election results the process of counting ballots has to be stopped, which is why we try to find a balance,” she said. “Constant updates means the process takes longer.”