Come election night, expect to know the next president well before you know the next Santa Clarita City Council.
With city elections for the first time being run by Los Angeles County, municipal ballot results likely will not be known until sometime during the day on Wednesday, Nov. 9 – at the earliest – officials acknowledged Thursday.
That mirrors the pace of election results after the June 6 primaries, also run by the county, when somewhere north of two million votes were cast county-wide.
And with Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump headlining the Nov. 8 fight card — generating what’s expected to be an even bigger turnout — counting the votes figures to be another long, slow slog.
What’s more, even though Vote By Mail enables early balloting, the state election code only slightly aids in early counting, according to the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office.
So if you’re planning to stay up late on election night, don’t expect a payoff when it comes to local races.
Previous city races
There are 11 candidates on the City Council ballot, to fill two expiring four-year seats, plus a slew of local school and water-board elections.
“We don’t expect to have results from the county that night [election night],” Gail Morgan, Santa Clarita’s communications manager, said. “They’ve told us, ‘Don’t expect to have it that night.’ ”
Previously, when the city was running its own elections, the counting process was done in City Hall’s Council Chamber, open to the public, with all the ballot boxes brought in and counted.
Because of the smaller scale of the counting, matters typically were wrapped up by 11 p.m. or midnight, Morgan said.
She added that while those city-counted results still needed to be certified, they were always accurate — and residents got a timely indication of the winners and losers.
That won’t be the case this year.
Lumped into the county
This year, the 15,000-or-so Santa Clarita ballots will have to get in line with all the others in the county-wide hopper.
That’s because, in the past, city elections were held in April – by themselves. But starting this year, the city agreed to move elections to the date of the November general election as part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit.
The suit had alleged the city’s at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act by denying Latino residents a fair voice. Rather than switch to a district system, as the suit had pushed, the city worked out a deal to switch the election date to a time when a bigger turnout was expected.
Another speed bump on election night is the fact that early voting does not equate to equally early counting of mail-in ballots.
In recent years, Santa Clarita voters have favored voting by mail over going to the polls on Election Day.
According to the City Clerk’s office, in the 2014 City Council race, 15,871 ballots were cast overall – of which 11,867 were provisional or mail-in ballots. That’s 74.8 percent mail-ins.
But even though that means a pile of ballots sitting around, early, waiting to be counted, the Registrar’s hands are somewhat tied.
“It’s a little technical,’’ said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan.
Actually, it’s a lot technical.
Vote by mail
“Legally, Vote By Mail ballots cannot be counted until after the close of polls at 8 p.m. on Election Night,’’ Sanchez said.
“However, beginning at E-11 — 11 days before Election Day — we can begin the process of opening Vote By Mail ballots and converting them from paper to a digital format that can be counted on Election Night after the close of polls.’’
Translation of “E-11” – Oct. 28.
“Beginning on E-11,’’ Sanchez went on, “the county starts the process of opening the envelopes and converting the paper VBM ballots to a digital format.
The digital VBM ballot images cannot be read through the tally system until after 8 p.m. on election night. All ballots are sorted by precinct, read though our high-speed optical scan ballot readers, and the tally system summarizes the vote results by precinct and by contest.’’
Sanchez also said that manpower at the Registrar’s Norwalk headquarters is not an issue – just the size of the task.
“There are hundreds of people at our Norwalk headquarters on election night,’’ he said.
“However, within the Microcomputer Tally System (MTS) room, there are approximately 120 staff involved in the tally operation during peak operation, including ballot tray handling, ballot-card reader operation, ballot storage and supervision.’’
So get a good night’s sleep on Nov. 8.
Then wake up refreshed and see how it all turned out.