Sonoma County workers Wednesday set about the laborious task of counting and verifying tens of thousands of mail-in ballots.
Bins of uncounted ballots in the Registrar of Voters' warehouse vividly illustrated the numbers of envelopes yet to be opened and examined by a staff of up to 24 election workers committed to the task.
It likely will take the full 31 days permitted by law to count them, said Janice Atkinson, county elections chief.
That will delay the naming of victors in at least three local elections, and none of the results for any race of ballot measure will be official until that final certification.
In recent general elections, roughly 35,000 mail-in ballots arrive in the mail or are hand-delivered to one of the county's 194 polling places on Election Day, making them the last to be counted.
It appeared Wednesday that those numbers would hold true again, said Atkinson, a 40-year veteran of the registrar's office.
"Does it seem to be about usual? Yes, so far," she said.
At the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building -- Precinct 3112 -- 618 mail-in ballots were turned in Tuesday, a record for a single polling station, Atkinson said.
"That's an incredible number," she said.
In total, 184,671 absentee ballots were mailed out to Sonoma County voters -- or 71 percent of the county's registered voters -- and about 122,000 of those were returned in time to be counted Tuesday.
But the number remaining means that some close races may hang in the balance for weeks:
The 10th Assembly District race, where San Rafael Councilman Marc Levine claimed victory Wednesday with a 468-vote lead but Assemblyman Michael Allen refused to concede.
The Sebastopol City Council race, where incumbent Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer trailed challenger John Eder by nine votes in a battle for the final contested seat.
The Santa Rosa school board race, where newcomer candidates Jenni Klose and Brian Noble were separated by 1,055 votes, with Klose leading.