.Unsigned Ballots Hold Key to Outcome of Seesaw 16th District Race

Evan Low was ahead of Joe Simitian by two votes Tuesday evening, one day after Simitian had led by 12 votes. The eventual winner of the race will be decided by how many of the 1,800 voters who mailed in unsigned ballots show up in the next two weeks to sign their ballots.

Of the more than 180,000 votes cast in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties for candidates for the 16th Congressional District, about 1% were mailed ballots that were missing signatures.

Those ballots now hold the key to the final outcome of the 16th District race.

Nearly two weeks after the March 5 primary election, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo held a comfortable nearly 8,000-vote lead for the top spot on the November ballot.

As of March 19, the contest for the ballot’s second spot continued its seesaw path.

With 99% of the ballots counted as of March 19, State Assemblymember Evan Low led by just two votes over Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, two days after Simitian had led Low by 12 votes.

The eventual winner of the race for the runnerup spot will be decided by how many of the 1,800 voters who mailed in unsigned ballots show up in the next two weeks to sign their ballots.

California is one of 30 states that require election officials to contact voters who have sent in an unsigned ballot and give them a chance to correct signature errors through a process called “ballot curing.” Once election officials match valid identification with the signature, the ballot gets counted.

That process is underway in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. As of March 18, Simitian held a 1,306-vote lead in San Mateo County, and Lowe held a 1,294 lead in Santa Clara County. Overall, more than 80% of 16th District votes came from Santa Clara County.

Liccardo, Low and Simitian had separated themselves from the rest of the 11-person field from the start of the ballot-counting process.

Simitian had led throughout the first week after the March 5 Primary Election by as many as 1,500 votes, but by the end of the first week Low’s total surged past Simitian by 63 votes. Then two days later Simitian was back in the lead, by 44 votes, a margin that dwindled as the ballot counting continued over the weekend.

On March 18, the California Secretary of State reported Simitian’s total was 30,204, and Low’s total was 30,192.

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters reported March 18 that it held 50 Unprocessed Provisional Ballots, 150 Conditional Voter Registration Ballots and 1,200 Challenged (unsigned) Ballots.

The San Mateo County Elections Division reported 20 Conditional Voter Registration Ballots, and 680 Challenged (unsigned) Ballots.

These totals represent all votes cast for all candidates.

Math and geography last week tilted in Simitian’s favor as the ballot counting advanced. As of March 20, multiple variables were competing to confound the odds makers.

Of the more than 180,000 ballots cast for 16th District candidates, Low tallied 17.4% of the votes in Santa Clara County, and 13.5% of the votes in San Mateo County. Simitian tallied 16.6% of the Santa Clara County votes and more than 17% of the San Mateo totals.

When these percentages are applied to the remaining unsigned ballots in each county, the Simitian-Low race becomes a virtual dead heat. The actual rate of the “curing” and the neighborhoods of these ballots could swing the final count in either direction.

The deadline for ballot counting is April 4.

This story was updated at 8:20 am on March 20.

barry holtzclaw, managing editor sanjoseinside
Barry Holtzclawhttp://sanjoseinside.com/
Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with Weeklys Publishing since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


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