Late in the night on Election Day, when what looked to be the final results for the Santa Barbara school board race rolled in, a feeling of triumph swept over candidate Ed Heron, the third top vote-getter in the five-way race for three seats, and a feeling of resignation descended upon candidate Charlotte Ware, the fourth. But those emotions were short-lived.
Now, they are back to waiting.
Just 241 votes separate Heron, a retired businessman who captured 16.74 percent of the vote, from Ware, a school volunteer and former engineer who received 16.55 percent. Meanwhile, the county Elections Office will spend the rest of the week counting about 36,000 mail-in and provisional ballots turned in countywide on Election Day. The results are expected to be in by Friday or Monday.
The results of that ballot count could tip the balance not only of the school board race, but also two others: the tight races for the 19th state Senate District, where Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson leads Republican Tony Strickland by just 108 votes, and the Carpinteria City Council, where Kathleen Reddington leads Steve McWhirter by 25 votes.
In the five-way race for three seats on the Santa Barbara school board, however, there was an added complication.
In that race, one of the candidates, special-education activist Kate Smith, was disqualified for living outside the district. Even so, on Tuesday she took in about 13,000 votes, or 11 percent of all votes cast for that race.
Although voters were informed either by mail or by flier that Smith was not a viable candidate, she was still on the ballot, and the votes cast for her were still counted. County elections officials could not be reached Wednesday to explain why Smith’s votes were counted.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to surmise whether her presence on the ballot created a disadvantage or advantage for Ware or Heron. In any case, on Wednesday, both said they were unconcerned about how Smith’s presence on the ballot affected the outcome. Also, reflecting the exceptionally civil spirit of this year’s campaign, each candidate praised the other.
Still, both candidates want to win.
Ware said that during the night of the election, she figured it was pretty much over, thinking there would have to be a lot of outstanding ballots to make a difference. As opposed to feeling disappointed, though, Ware, who was surrounded by family and friends, said she felt at peace.
“Everyone was so supportive. I felt I must be the richest woman in the world,” she said. “I was OK with it last night.”
But on Wednesday, when local media began reporting that the number of uncounted ballots countywide was 36,000, a post-Election Day comeback seemed more possible. Still, Ware noted that the 36,000 ballots are from voters across the entire county, whereas the Santa Barbara school board race is decided by voters from Montecito to Goleta. Plus, Ware, a self-described numbers person, said many of the uncounted ballots pertaining to the school board race will have no bearing on the outcome, because there are probably some voters who selected neither her nor Heron, and others who voted for both.
Still, Ware stopped short of describing her potential to win as unlikely. “I’m not that good with numbers,” she joked.
Heron said the uncertainty has been difficult. “It’s hard to focus on very much; you just have to wait,” he said.
As for the debacle surrounding Smith’s presence on the ballot, Heron said: “My dad always said, ‘Worry about the things you can control, don’t worry about the things you can’t.’ That doesn’t bother me one iota.”
On Tuesday night, when what seemed to be the final results came in, Heron, a political newcomer, said he felt an unfamiliar brand of euphoria that might be unique to winning an election.
“I had never known that feeling before,” he said, adding that it subsided shortly afterward, when he correctly speculated that many votes were probably still uncounted.
Heron said the hardest part about the wait is telling all of the people who call to congratulate him that it’s not over yet.
“Some news outlets have said I won, with no caveat that says it’s not the final result,” he said. “All day long I’ve been getting congratulations.”
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.