The story is far from over in the battle for the last of three open City Council seats.
By Carol Rock and Jon Dell
Election Day may be over, but that doesn't mean everything is resolved. Two of the three open Santa Clarita City Council seats were won by incumbents Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean. The last seat, however, is still too close to call, as only 69 votes separate incumbent Frank Ferry and challenger David Gauny.
At the close of vote tabulation Tuesday night, the City guessed that roughly 250-300 ballots had yet to be counted. However late Wednesday afternoon the City confirmed that 641 ballots remain uncounted and unverified at this time. The uncounted ballots include all provisional ballots, as well as vote by mail (absentee) ballots that were dropped off at polling locations or City Hall Tuesday.
David Gauny's chances of coming from behind to snatch the final seat improve the higher that uncounted number is.
At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday the city of Santa Clarita released the official timeline for what happens next, along with an explanation of election processes.
That statement is printed in bold below:
The City is in possession of 641 ballots that have yet to be counted. Of these 641, the breakout is as follows:
* 404 vote by mail ballots dropped off at the precincts yesterday
* 5 vote by mail ballots hand delivered to the City Clerk yesterday, before the close of the election but too late to be included in last night's count
* 215 provisional ballots cast at the precincts yesterday; and
* 17 vote by mail ballots returned by mail prior to the close of the precincts where the City Clerk can not authenticate signatures.
Vote by mail ballots (previously known as absentee ballots) are ballots that are mailed to voters who have requested these types of ballots. Voters then complete the ballot and either mail their ballot in or hand it in to a precinct on Election Day. Provisional ballots are those cast at precincts by voters who state that they are registered to vote, but whose name does not appear on the roster at the precinct, or who otherwise cannot vote in the ordinary manner - such as voters who previously requested a vote by mail ballot but have not mailed the ballot or brought it to the polls or voters who go to the incorrect precinct.
City Clerk staff has prepared and ran the 409 vote by mail ballots through our signature verification machine to authenticate the voter's signature and ensure we do not have any duplicate ballots. Any ballot containing a signature the Clerk's office cannot verify on-site will be copied and added to the batch of signatures the office will be sending to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder at its office in Norwalk by the end of business today. Once signatures for these ballots have been verified, the City Clerk will sort the ballots by precinct, box the ballots and secure the ballots. The City Clerk's office will not physically open any ballot envelopes until they are all ready to be opened.
Next, City Clerk staff will begin verifying provisional ballots cast at the precinct. As part of this process, City Clerk staff makes copies of all the envelopes with signatures and sends the copies to the County Registrar-Recorder at its office in Norwalk.
Before validating each provisional ballot, moreover, City Clerk staff must cross reference our election database to ensure that the voter did not also return a mailed ballot. City Clerk staff must also review the precinct logs to make sure the voter did not cast a ballot at their assigned precinct and then cast a second provisional ballot at a second precinct location.
Once all ballots have been verified, the next step will be to have the Ballot Board open the ballots, inspect the ballots for damage and sort them by precinct for machine count. This process, as with previous meetings of the Ballot Board, will be open to the public for viewing. After that process is complete, City Clerk staff will conduct a full-machine count of all remaining ballots at one-time, in the City Council Chambers in the same fashion as on Election Night.
We likely won't know the real outcome of the race until Monday, April 19. Provisional ballots have to be qualified, and those that cannot be verified by the City will have to be sent to Los Angeles County.
With all the activity at City Hall Tuesday night, the candidates chose to stay away and watch returns on computer and television screens with friends and family. We stopped in to visit with some of the front-runners.
Mayor Laurene Weste, who will begin her fourth consecutive term on April 27, held a low-key gathering in an old house on Magic Mountain Parkway. The tiny front room was crowded with supporters and spilled out into the parking lot, where Weste was greeting new arrivals.
"I love Santa Clarita," she said. "We are one of the best (cities) in the nation in so many ways, the best for families, geographically gorgeous, some of the most wonderful people on the planet as far as I'm concerned live here and you know, we care about each other here. I feel great. My proudest moment is being able to serve my community."
In Old Newhall, the Egg Plantation was the spot for supporters of TimBen Boydston and Henry Schultz. As he sat at a high-top table where a computer showed an ongoing tally of the ballots, he held out optimistically.
"I feel good, we ran a good clean campaign, we did not go negative," he said. "We talked about the issues. I have about 60-70 volunteers that have worked incredible hours because they believe in the democratic process.
"The results are what they are, the people have spoken and I'm good with that," Boydston concluded.
Top vote-getter Marsha McLean celebrated with fellow incumbent Frank Ferry at the home of Councilwoman Laurie Ender. She seemed a bit overwhelmed, but pleasantly surprised.
"I am very happy, and happy the campaign is over," she said, smiling broadly. "I wasn't sure with this election how it was going to be. I worked very hard and I'm glad I did and I'm very happy with the results."
Asked if she has any plans for the next four years, McLean touched on one of her favorite subjects.
"I think we have a lot of work to do; with the economy the way it is, we have to make sure we stay strong economically. We are going to be planning the future for the next 25 years, it's a big responsibility and we need to make sure we do it right. I'm very interested in transportation issues and really want to bring a high speed transportation system up this way and make sure we get our fair share of the dollars. Most of all, I'm happy that I'll be able to return to the City Council to continue the work that I've done."
With the third open slot tentatively in his grasp, Frank Ferry watched anxiously as the last of the returns came in.
"Honestly, I feel the same way I did six months ago. I knew this was going to be a tough race. I've been a very strong advocate for the hospital, I've been an outspoken advocate for keeping public roads open, such as Benz and Linda Vista. I've been an outspoken advocate for private property rights, so it's not like I didn't know that over the course of 12 years I've taken very clear outspoken positions on issues, and that includes me taking a job outside the Hart District.
"I knew when I went down to Alemany and brought down some coaches that were loved at one school, and some athletes that came and chose my school. It's one of those things that you peck away and peck away over 12 years so I knew it was going to be a tough race. Like I said before, I love the city, I feel like I've given 12 years of great public service and I knew going in that people would say either ‘you've done a great job, keep it up' or I'd do the same type of things just not with the councilman title. It doesn't change who I am, doing stuff for youth and for kids.
If he does end up the third-highest vote-getter, Ferry said that he's got a couple of issues he hopes to pursue.
"On Whittaker Bermite, I want to see a clear and concise plan on how that's going to become a viable property to be developed economically and get the roads in. I also want to see us take more of a leadership position for senior citizens in our valley; I know it's a county issue, but our community has been so generous to open space, to kids, to schools. We've got to do something different than other communities have done and say our youth and seniors are equal as important to each other."
Reflecting on his first race for Council, Ferry drew some similarities to Tuesday's race.
"In my first election I ran against Jill Klajic and Jan Heidt, who were incumbents," he said. "I worked so hard, I put in 20 hour days for six months and no one knew who I was. At the beginning of the night I was winning, by the end of the night I lost by 60 votes. Here you have a similar situation, where I'm up by 70 votes.
"The difference is now I'm the principal of a high school with a $14 million budget, I have 1,600 kids and parents and 150 staff members and employees. You just can't come and go like you did. I have two sons who live with me full time and they take my time. I never miss an event of theirs. Even though it was election night, I went to a volleyball game at Golden Valley and drove down to Crespi High School for another game and got back up here by 8:30. My sons will always be a priority. Your life changes and my life if in a different position than it was when I ran 14 years ago."
Across town, challenger David Gauny was reeling from his late-night surge in the vote tabulation.
A somewhat stunned David Gauny told KHTS that he had already thanked his supporters when the surge changed everything.
"When we were 800 votes behind I talked to the crowd and said ‘hey, thanks for all the work, we've done a great job, we've run a great campaign and I feel proud of everybody,"' he said. "And then all of a sudden things started turning, and obviously the momentum is still here and there's a group of people looking at it and thinking ‘how did this happen' and we're excited. I feel great."