Election 2022 results: Vote counting is slow going with still 50% left to be tabulated

Stacks of ballots waiting to be counted at the Santa Cruz County Clerk's office
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Just released voting totals — with 33,569 votes now counted by the County Clerk’s office — tells us more about what is decided, and what the November ballot will look like. And there are at least two possible cliffhangers in Measure F and the 4th District Supervisor race.

It’s over, but it’s not. The Santa Cruz County Clerk’s office released its second round of primary election voting results late Friday afternoon. The total vote counted in the county now totals 33,569, up 3,229 since the last count in the wee hours after Tuesday’s election.

By the end of the next week, when we expect final, preliminary totals – the vote doesn’t have to be certified until July 5 – we expect that the total vote in the county will about double that 33,569 total.

“There still are 32,000 vote by mail ballots that are in the process,” County Clerk Tricia Webber told Lookout this afternoon. “They are still in the signature verification phase and/or have been verified but have not yet been tabulated.” She expects her office, which will be counting through the weekend, to know the results of 10,000 of those 32,000 by Monday.

It’s been a slower process than anticipated, she said, mainly because of the number of mail-in votes that landed on Election Day. “I would like to be moving faster. Unfortunately, I’m not able to move faster,” Webber told us late Friday.

We’ll tell you more about that process and why the counting is going slow on Monday.

The important updates for now: 1) The only two races that were neck-and-neck, Santa Cruz’s sales tax measure (F) and the 4th District Supervisor, remain far too close to call, and 2) Webber’s team will work the weekend to add another 10,000 votes by Monday, they hope to add 10,000 more by Wednesday and complete most the vote with another 10,000 by Friday.

Webber said the next update on their site will happen at noon Monday and we have updated the charts for each race in easy-to-read fashion for you below.

Greenway’s concession

Late Wednesday morning, the Yes Greenway team, led by high-profile local philanthropist Bud Colligan, issued a statement:

The voters have spoken. The Measure D amendment to the county’s General Plan did not pass. The baton is now passed to the Regional Transportation Commission to move forward with a plan that is fundable, doable in a reasonable period of time, and provides the transit and environmental benefits we all want.

We’d like to thank our incredible team of volunteers that put Measure D on the ballot, collecting the largest number of signatures in the history of Santa Cruz County and providing a factual education to the citizenry regarding the unused rail corridor. We are proud of the positive campaign run by the YES Greenway team and look forward to a beneficial use of the rail corridor for all residents.

As Lookout reported Tuesday night, the hotly contested measure turned quickly into a lopsided vote — with D’s loss fairly apparent as soon as the first votes came in at 8:20 p.m. With final totals to be reported by County Clerk Tricia Webber on Friday, this is where the D vote stood as of early Wednesday.

That’s “No” leading “Yes” 21,021 votes to 8,580.

As we can already read in the yes concession, this battle isn’t over. The battleground is just moving to the Regional Transportation Commission — where Guy Preston and staff, by law, must be the “honest broker” in this matter.

Friends of the Rail & Trail leader Sally Arnold told the celebratory crowd at Michael’s On Main on Tuesday that this is only the start of the work the community needs to do: “The RTC needs to do what the voters want, and we won’t stop pressing them.”

In an email Wednesday afternoon, No Way Greenway also acknowledged the results:

Santa Cruz County voters have spoken. We feel very optimistic that the results will show voters have rejected Greenway’s proposal to tear up the tracks — potentially in a landslide. A rejection of Measure D is a political mandate from our community. Voters once again are sending a message to the RTC that they want a future that includes a trail located alongside rail.

It is our expectation that the RTC will listen to the people, reject railbanking and focus on continuing to build the rail and trail project. Measure D revealed a deep passion in our community for a future that includes both a trail and rail. This community wants a transportation system that is greener, more equitable and more efficient than what we have now. Voters recognize that rail AND trail is the best way to deliver on that future.

Lookout’s just-published first takeaways on the election focuses first on the RTC. Its next meeting on June 16 could be a raucous one. Check out our questions on what might happen there, and afterward. We’ll be staying on top of this story.

Full vote counts from Santa Cruz County’s primary election aren’t expected until Friday, but we’ve seen enough of the...

So much for ‘D’ as in dogfight

The early returns on Measure D don’t reflect the close race most longtime political observers — or even the No Way Greenway campaign that had gathered at Michael’s On Main to watch the primary election results unfold — were expecting.

District 3 Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said he was shocked at the chasm between yes and no on a vote most believed would be close and come down to specific geographies: Santa Cruz, Watsonville and the San Lorenzo Valley staunchly “No,” with the majority of the mid-county perhaps swaying toward “Yes.”

Melani Clark of Roaring Camp speaks at Michael's On Main after the early returns were in.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“In order to see numbers like this, you basically have to lose equally in all parts of the county,” Coonerty said.

Coonerty sees the dramatic “No” turnout as a referendum on change for the sake of change and the tone in which this issue took on.

“There’s a frustration about the pace of change (around here), but that doesn’t always mean that people want to just pick a direction and go,” he said. “And also the arguments got so overheated and out of proportion to the issue. And when that happens, sometimes people vote no, not only on the substance, but just on the whole tone of the campaign.”

Supervisor Manu Koenig, who was elected after serving as the director of Greenway, said the complicated nature of the issue might have deterred some voters.

“When there’s uncertainty, it’s always easier to say no,” he said.

“Santa Cruz County voters have spoken. Y’all did it, y’all did it,” No Way Greenway leader Mark Mesiti-Miller shouted to the Michael’s on Main crowd Tuesday night, noting the numbers were a “landslide.”

“I’ve never seen the kind of opposition that blew up from this, and it’s across the board — it’s such a broad geopolitical landscape to stand up against something. It reflects the heart and soul of Santa Cruz County.”

No on D leaders (from left) Matt Farrell, Mark Mesiti-Miller and Melani Clark.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In our running Election 2022 results coverage here, all vote totals are up to date as of the county clerk’s early Wednesday update, with that final report on all the mail-in and in-person balloting due Friday.

As of the most recent update, 30,340 votes had been cast in Santa Cruz County out of 167,659 registered voters, a turnout of 18.1%.

When will the vote — which should be about half in — be finalized? “No update on results until Friday,” Webber texted us as Tuesday turned to Wednesday. “We will process on Thursday to get them ready.”

So where does that leave us? Read through Election 2022 for the full details, race by race.

Strong beginning for longtime county clerk

Santa Cruz’s Gail Pellerin has emerged so far in the pole position for the November election, chalking up 34.2% of the vote, with apparently a little more than half the vote in.

Pellerin, the longtime county clerk, aims to represent the new, redrawn Santa Cruz County/Santa Clara County Assembly District, in a seat vacated by the retiring Mark Stone. She is the major candidate from this side of the hill, in a district that now sees 70% of its constituency ranging from Los Gatos, Cambrian Park and Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County. Only 30% of the district lies in Santa Cruz County.

So far, her closest opponent is Republican Liz Lawler, who is polling at 30.6%, followed closely by Rob Rennie’s 25.4%. If her edge over Rennie holds, Lawler, the only Republican in the race, could face an uphill route to a November election in an area that is heavily Democratic.

Unsurprisingly, Pellerin’s lead was generated by the big numbers that came out of her home county — 48.4% of the Santa Cruz County vote is going to Pellerin, to 18.6% to Lawler and 15.9% to Rennie.

In Santa Clara County, the three leaders are within 2,570 votes, with Lawler leading at 34.2% with 13,399 votes, Rennie polling at 28.2% with 11,021 votes and Pellerin at 27.7% and 10,829.

“I think it would be unusual for me to fall out of the top two, and statistically it would be unlikely,” Pellerin told Lookout on Tuesday night. “But anything is possible.”

3rd District: Kalantari-Johnson, Cummings look headed to November

So far, it appears Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Justin Cummings — the two increasingly combative Santa Cruz city councilmembers — are headed to a head-to-head in November, as we thought.

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After the early count, there had been 5,652 votes cast in that race as of the 2:48 a.m. Wednesday update.

Kalantari-Johnson — or Shebreh, as the voluminous yard signs shout — had 41.3%%, while Cummings, also well-displayed, had 33.6%.

Ami Chen Mills is a distant third, but as the vote-splitter as we expected, her 15.6% — if it holds — will be enough to push the race to November, with no candidate getting 50% plus 1 in the primary.

Kalantari-Johnson visited the Hotel Paradox with a few close friends and family members to await the votes, and noted two feelings that stuck out during the evening: humbleness and gratitude.

“I feel really solid and good about where I’m at right now. I did what I could [during my campaign] to meet as many voters as possible,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s what the other candidates planned, but that’s what I wanted to do.”

Should the election lead to a runoff between herself and Cummings, Kalantari-Johnson said she feels solid in what she’s achieved thus far, and what could come from the November election. She encouraged voters who may not have supported her this time around to reach out to her to “find where we can align.”

Cummings, who hosted an election watch party at SEIU 521 Union Hall in downtown Santa Cruz, told Lookout that he was still processing the first wave of results coming in. In 2018, when he first ran for city council, he sat in sixth place on Election Night; as the days and weeks continued, he climbed into the first spot. From that experience, he remains “hopeful and patient” — even if November will be a different challenge.

“It’s definitely going to be a different race,” he said, noting the parallel city council redistricting election. “If E passes, we’ll have supervisors running, mayors running and councilmembers running … it’s going to be a much more complex election.”

4th District: Dutra holds lead over Hernandez early

District 4 looks to tilting toward former Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, who had 1,152 votes as of early Wednesday, while Felipe Hernandez had 860 and Ed Acosta had 345. That’s out of only 2,467 votes cast, including 12 write-ins — far less than those in the similar-sized District 3; observers have expected that the vote would be lower there, as it has been in past elections.

Dutra could be in striking distance of pulling out an outright victory here. He’s at 46.7% to Hernandez’s 34.9% at this point, with Acosta pulling 14% so far.

Santa Cruz voters decisively say: We want a four-year mayor

The vote to create a four-year position for mayor is a big winner. Almost up 3-1, 4,294 had said yes to the idea and 1,856 said no.

The city is already moving to districted elections — that was known going into this ballot — but the move to a full-time mayor is a departure for Santa Cruz. For years, the mayor’s position has rotated among council members. With the city facing multiple issues, led by homelessness and affordability, the vote could indicate a new cry among voters for leadership.

A “Yes” vote will see the city enact a new system of governance that divides the city into six districts and introduces a directly elected at-large mayor who serves a four-year term. Those districting maps have themselves become a big bone of contention between county supervisor candidates Cummings and Kalatari-Johnson. If E passes and the two face off in November, expect to hear more about the fairness of the map-drawing.

In a previous interview with Lookout, veteran local and state politician Fred Keeley shared that either direction would be a challenge to implement by November, as half the council would remain intact and whichever system would create a “difficult, transitional two years.”

“I guess there’s no perfect way to do it, but closer to perfect would be putting the whole thing off,” he said.

Assembly District 30: Addis far out in front

Dawn Addis, a women’s rights activist, teacher and councilmember from Morro Bay, holds a significant early lead, with 43.4% of the vote for this newly drawn district that includes Live Oak, Capitola, Aptos, La Selva Beach and parts of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, the coastal area of Monterey County and most of San Luis Obispo County.

With a geography over three counties — Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo — it is one of the most sprawling newly reconfigured Assembly districts.

With all 209 precincts partially reporting in a 3:16 a.m. update from the secretary of state, Addis had 27,079 votes, compared to her closest rival, Republican Vicki Nohrden, who had captured 20,818 votes, or 33.4% of the total. Nohrden is a bit of a surprise in second place, given she had only $25,000 in her campaign coffers.

Given that all the other candidates are Democrats, Addis’ route to victory in November — needing just 6% more of the total vote — seems like a good one.

Jon Wizard, a former firefighter and public safety officer and a Seaside city council member who had raised close to $270,000, had garnered 10.5% of the vote, with 6,537 votes.

Zoe Carter had 8.6% of votes, while 21-year-old college student John Drake had 4.1%.

No Santa Cruzans ran for the new seat; Addis, polling at 43.4% districtwide, stood at 37.7% of the Santa Cruz County vote. Here, Nohrdren was polling at 21.1%.

The cup tax: Measure C

No one filed opposition to Measure C and it shows.

Early tallies show “Yes” votes with 20,066 votes, compared to 9,338 for “No.”

Early tallies indicate voters want half of the 25 cents extra we pay for paper cups — that’s 12.5 cents — to go into a county general fund and the other half to go back to businesses. Right now, businesses get all the money from the fees.

The tax is projected to add $700,000 to the general fund — currently to be $680.7 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The funds are supposed to be earmarked for environmental use.

The hotel tax: Measure B

No surprises here. Santa Cruz residents once again look like they are voting to raise taxes on tourists.

As of early Wednesday, 20,237 voters have said yes to upping taxes from 11% to 12% on hotels, motels and inns in unincorporated areas and to pushing taxes for vacation rental properties in unincorporated areas from 11% to 14%.

Only 9,274 oppose it.

Measure F: Santa Cruz city sales tax

One of the tightest races of the night is turning out to be among the driest measures on the ballot.

Residents of the city of Santa Cruz are split on the question of whether to raise the city sales tax from 9.25% to 9.75%. Preliminary numbers show 3,048 voters saying yes and 3,029 saying no. That’s only 6,500 votes so far, but we will be watching what happens next.

The good news? Whichever way it goes, food, prescription medicine, diapers and feminine hygiene products won’t be taxed.

Low turnout ruling the day early

And down the stretch we come — at least for the races that can be called official tonight.

And that might not be very many.

With fewer than two hours to go before polls close, Santa Cruz County primary voting continues on pace to break the all-time low turnout set eight years ago. It’s a trend being seen statewide.

Santa Cruz County Clerk Tricia Webber confirmed that the count Tuesday will likely be below that 34.83% threshold of the 2014 primary, but could crawl out of that dubious historical hole as votes continue to be counted in the days ahead.

“There are a lot of vote-by-mail ballots that we received today that will be added to the count over the next week,” she said as early evening arrived. “That will be a boost.”

Lookout is checking on how much a major shift in voting before Election Day will play out here. Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that since COVID-19 emerged in 2020 the number of voting done before Election Day has dominated total turnout (67-70% in recent elections).

What will that mean for any firm conclusions being drawn tonight? It could mean that an anticipated close race on Measure D will be too close to call — and that anticipation levels at each campaign’s watch party might skew extra tense.

Most observers don’t expect to see either of the two county supervisors’ contests or the state assembly races declare a 50% plus 1 victor in this round. That means most voters will face many of the same choices, minus a few, in November ... will we be able to determine the finality of even a two-horse race by the end of the night?

We’ll be here with the latest. We’ve got a Lookout team of six working Election Night Live this evening. Keep checking back here for updates.

We will be talking to the leading candidates as the first votes are released after 8 p.m. — and we’ll chart, in easy-to-read fashion — those results. Then, we’ll stay on top of the subsequent counts that will roll out before midnight, following the vibe closely on Measure D especially.

Grace Stetson and Kevin Painchaud will be stopping in on the No Way Greenway party at Michael’s On Main in Soquel. We’ll also see if we get the go-ahead to check in on the Yes Greenway soiree at another mid-county establishment of high repute.

Grab your popcorn and settle in for the long evening ahead.

Pellerin, Thompson hit the pavement early for sign waving

The room holding electronic voting booth at the Watsonville City Clerk's office during a slow stretch Tuesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Assembly District 28 candidates Gail Pellerin and Joe Thompson took to the streets, campaign signs in hand, for some early sign-waving ahead of the ballot count.

They set up on the corner of Ocean Street and Water Street right outside the now unionized Starbucks, the result of a multi-month effort led by Thompson.

Pellerin held her dog Darwin in her free hand while Thompson held up their own campaign sign in one hand and a “No on D” sign in the other.

‘D’ as in don’t bother voting?

Disassociate, disentangle, divorce.

Done.

Were those the “D” words that rang truest for would-be Santa Cruz County voters through all the Measure D discourse?

As of noon Tuesday, only 18.9% of the 160,00 registered voters in the county had cast ballots, putting this on course to be the lowest primary turnout in history.

Only 34.83% participated in 2014 when Jerry Brown was going for his gubernatorial redux and locally there were two supervisor seat contests — but no high-profile countywide issue like Measure D.
It was easy to think, perhaps with an overabundance of hopefulness, that the strife-ridden rail-and-trail discussion would help bring out a surge of voters who either wanted to make sure the Greenway initiative prevailed or went down in fiery flames.

Could Measure D’s somewhat vicious politics have actually soured that many people on the whole process itself?

Ryan Coonerty, the veteran, multigenerational politico who is giving up his District 3 county supervisor seat in November, feels the souring of our normally engaged electorate might go a bit deeper than the rail corridor debate.

“Anecdotally, I think people are exhausted from the last six years,” he said. “Democracy requires a lot of work, and maybe folks are just tapped out.”

To Coonerty’s point, locally we have risen to the occasion in recent years. Over the past six elections, Santa Cruz County has averaged a 61.58% turnout — including a record 86.13% in November 2020 for Biden vs. Trump and a full slate of local campaigns. Of course, participation drops in non-presidential election years, such as this one.

District 4 county supervisor candidate Jimmy Dutra said he thinks the tenor of Measure D had to play a big role in the ballot box crickets.

“People purposely sat it out because they were turned off by the contentious nature of Measure D,” he said. “The attacks were just too much for them. It turns people off.”

Two-time Santa Cruz mayor, Don Lane, thinks Measure D was certainly part of it — but maybe it was more about apathy and confusion than angst.

“Even though Measure D is getting a lot of ink and advertising, a lot of people probably don’t think it’s the most compelling issue,” he said. “It also could be undecidedness. It seems like there are a fair number of people are undecided on D and may have been waiting for some final something to help them decide.”

Two other broader possibilities Lane posits:

(1) “With the lack of interesting state or federal races, I think the attention level is low among people who don’t follow politics closely.”

(2) “Dems and people left of center (which is so much of Santa Cruz County and California) are feeling demoralized and/or not very excited about what’s happening in politics generally.”

‘Signs, signs, please get rid of those signs’

Thank you to the City of Santa Cruz for getting us to think about how to eradicate our beautiful landscape of political campaign signs as soon as the final votes have been cast.

However, at least in Santa Cruz, that’s not as simple as hucking them in our big blue bins. Here is the procedure that will work best for the earth.