If there’s one thing elections officials pray for, it’s wide margins on Election Day. A clear and convincing election result allows final tallies to be announced. Winners receive congratulations, losers give concession speeches and everyone else returns to work. But that’s not what’s happening this year. In the state controller’s race, we find an incredibly close result that has changed leads repeatedly throughout the counting period. Republican Ashley Swearengin is solidly in first place, nearly guaranteed a spot in the runoff. But the vote differential between second and fourth is a mere four-tenths of a percent, with hundreds of thousands of votes to count. This easily could go to a recount if the margins remain this narrow.
With the spotlight on and representatives of each campaign lurking over their shoulders, elections officials are engaged in the painstaking process of validating ballots mailed in during the last days of the election or dropped off at polling locations. They are reviewing tens of thousands of provisional ballots used by voters who couldn’t get regular ballots at their polling places.
California doesn’t have the infamous hanging-chad or butterfly ballot, but there are damaged ballots and signatures that don’t match. Ballots are dropped off in the wrong county or mailed in the wrong envelope. Voters show up the day after the election and try to hand in their absentee ballot. Piles of ballots are marked “too late” because the mail arrived after Election Day.