Mail-in votes to play large part in deciding Auburn Council race

Up to 44,000 ballots yet to be tallied countywide
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A

If there’s one thing the three Auburn City Council candidates agree on, it’s that there is still a long way to go until the winners of two seats will be determined.

Election night results showed incumbent Dr. Bill Kirby leading with 2,419 votes, with challenger Gary Moffat trailing him by 44 votes for the second seat, and incumbent Keith Nesbitt two votes behind Moffat.

“It could change easily, so there’s not much to say,” Kirby said. “It’s nice to stay ahead.”

Nesbitt and Kirby both said they remained confident, and Moffat said he wouldn’t begin to guess the eventual winners and loser.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 ballots countywide have yet to be counted – a majority of them mail-in and about 4,000 provisional – and that’s in addition to the 14,000 mail-in ballots that had been signature verified but not yet counted, said Ryan Ronco, assistant registrar of voters for the Placer County Elections Office.

Once counted, election results could be swayed 10 to 15 percent, according to the elections office.

Nesbitt, who is running for a third consecutive term, said his confidence stems from the fact he led Moffat after the first count that consisted of just mail-in ballots, albeit by 31 votes.

“The first time I was elected in 2004, Bridget Powers beat me by like 130 votes at the polls, but I beat her by over 200 votes in the (mail-in),” Nesbitt said. “I really had it backward last night. I felt the polls would be good to us, but when I look at my candidacy historically, I have been strong with the (mail-in) votes.”

Moffat said no one could have expected the race to be this close.

“I put the time and effort into this thing to surmount huge odds where I had some formidable opponents, including the Chamber of Commerce and your newspaper,” he said. (Both the Chamber and the Journal endorsed Kirby and Nesbitt.) “And I was in this with some core supporters, and we worked really hard to reach out to the people, and it paid off.”

The elections office expected to have a breakdown of remaining ballots by supervisorial district today, and since Auburn’s city limits are within District 5, that count will reveal how many ballots could still affect the City Council race.

Ronco said he expected it to be a “significant” amount.

“I don’t know what that number is, but when you have a difference of two votes, any number of votes can be significant,” he said.

Election night results are an unofficial tally, Ronco said, not only because ballots remain to be counted, but also because the elections office has yet to complete its process of verifying that ballots were properly submitted and processed.

“It is in no way to be considered a final number until after we have done all the tasks that by state law have to be performed during the post election canvass,” Ronco said. “That’s a huge part of the story, but it’s only one part.”

State law provides 28 days after an election before its results must be certified, but Ronco said Placer County aims to have them wrapped up by Thanksgiving – and ideally much sooner.

A hand count will be taken of a portion of the ballots – usually around 10 percent – to provide a gauge of accuracy, he said.

“I would suspect that the City Council candidates might be interested in watching the process,” Ronco said of the canvassing procedures. “I think it will give them a sign of whether or not they do want to move forward with a recount after the election is certified.”

Kirby and Moffat both said they trusted the Placer County Elections Office and would not be overseeing the process. Nesbitt said he’ll try to see “a little bit” of it, but in the case of a recount, he will be paying “very close” attention to it.

“I’m going to end up ahead of (Moffat) in votes,” Nesbitt said. “But I think it’s going to be so close that he’s going to want a recount.”

Placer County Elections Office was involved in a recount as recent as this summer for the cigarette tax proposition, but the recount was ended because those who initiated it weren’t seeing the numbers that would swing it the other way, Ronco said.

He could not recall a City Council race that had gone to a recount, but said that Jim McCauley, Placer County registrar of voters, called for a recount for a supervisors race in 1996 when two of the candidates tied, and the recount determined a winner between the two.

A majority of recounts are initiated by voters, and an interested party can request a recount within five calendar days of the election’s certification, he said. Recount costs are covered by the requesting party, he added.

“At this stage I would say it’s too early to tell,” whether a recount looms for the Council race, Ronco said.  “In two weeks, this might be a much wider margin.”

The election drama embodies what has been a tumultuous and hard-fought race.

In his campaign to break the status quo, Moffat continually challenged Kirby and Nesbitt on how the Council handled issues such as the charter city measure, move to a regional sewer and economic development.

The possibility remains that Kirby and Moffat – whose clashes at debates and over donations sometimes devolved into name-calling and accusations of lies – could serve on the same Council.

“Time heals,” Moffat said when asked how he would handle moving beyond the negativity raised during the campaign. “I guess that’s the only thing that I could offer. But I got into this with the noblest of reason, and to be demonized by my opponents was not a pleasant experience.”

Said Kirby: “I think the negativity, frankly, has all been on his side. I’ve only responded to it.”

And if they both get elected, Kirby said, “On issues that are for the good of the city, I’ll vote, and he’ll vote, and hopefully he’ll vote the right way.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews