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Ballot count continues as Sonoma County election turnout may reach 86 percent

Sonoma County voter turnout for the general election is expected to reach up to 86 percent as remaining mail-in and provisional ballots are counted, officials said Thursday.

That’s about midway between the high of 93 percent in 2008 and 84 percent in 2012, said Bill Rousseau, the county’s clerk-?recorder-assessor and elections chief.

“I’m guessing we’re going to be 10 percent above the state average in this one,” Rousseau said.

His office expects to complete the tally by Dec. 6, using all of its allotted time before the state’s deadline to report final results.

Statewide, millions of ballots remain uncounted across California’s 58 counties, and total turnout has yet to be established. On Thursday, it was about 60 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

“Everyone is in the same situation,” Rousseau said. “Large turnout, lots of vote-by-mails.”

Those factors, coupled with aging elections equipment, mean Sonoma County will have to wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday for final numbers, he said.

In Sonoma County, which lists about 273,000 registered voters, officials still needed to count about a quarter - or 68,400 - of the total 237,968 votes cast. About 61,000 of those were mail-in ballots received the weekend before Election Day.

The remaining uncounted ballots - about 7,800 - were provisional, requiring further verification.

It was unclear if the uncounted votes would be enough to sway several close races. In Petaluma, 137 votes separated two candidates for City Council, and Sonoma’s leaf blower ban was passing by a razor-thin margin of 40 votes. However, the additional ballots could close the gaps in some races, providing encouragement for future elections.

Supporters of Sonoma County Regional Parks’ improvement tax, Measure J, which was several percentage points short of passing - with 25,000 eligible ballots or more uncounted - told The Press Democrat’s editorial board they would consider putting forth another tax measure as soon as next year.

On Thursday, election workers processed stacks of ballots to meet the state-mandated deadline. Also, they conducted a random hand count of ?1 percent of all precincts to verify the accuracy of the county’s vote-counting equipment.

At 33 years old, the county’s main ballot-counting machine is among the oldest in the state, Rousseau said.

He was looking into replacing it to speed the process, he said. By the spring elections, he hopes to carry out about $300,000 to $400,000 in upgrades to a different 10-year-old machine that would save time verifying signatures and sorting ballots, he said.

The expense was approved by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year, but the improvements could not be made in time for the general election, Rousseau said.

Still, he was confident the existing equipment would perform well.

“They may not be fast but they are accurate,” Rousseau said. “They have proven it time and again.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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