Political Climate with Mark Simon: 40-percent voter turnout in all-mail county election

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

More than 70,000 ballots from last week’s statewide primary remain to be counted, according to San Mateo County elections chief Mark Church, and that means the race for county Superintendent of Schools remains very much up in the air.

But the real news might be the total number of ballots cast in the election. When everything is tallied, more than 156,000 voters will have turned in their ballots, an astonishing 40 percent voter turnout.

Among the state’s urban counties, only San Francisco, with a mayor’s race topping the ballot and a former mayor running for governor, had a higher turnout.

In San Mateo County, the schools race was the only truly contested countywide race. The race for governor, U.S. senator and the statewide offices had their share of intrigue, but all things considered, it was a low-key campaign season – certainly absent the kind of drama that draws large numbers of voters.

Statewide, voter turnout was 26 percent, according to a report posted yesterday by the California Secretary of State’s office, although there could be as many as 2 million uncounted ballots statewide.

That means the county’s experiment in all-mail balloting was a phenomenal success in drawing voters to the polls in an otherwise lackluster campaign season.

The large number of unprocessed ballots means ongoing suspense for Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee, the two candidates for county schools chief. As of last Thursday, Waddell was ahead by 501 votes, more than the tally on election night, but still too close to call.

It could be several more days before we know how this race turns out.

A Belmont-Redwood Shores School District parcel tax needed two-thirds to pass and it stands at 64.95, about 1.5 percent behind. There might still be enough votes outstanding to pass this measure, but the votes would have to break substantially for the yes side.

GEE FORCE: Redwood City incumbent Jeff Gee officially kicked off his campaign for re-election Sunday at an afternoon gathering of more than 50 friends and supporters at Angelica’s on Main Street.

The benefits of incumbency can be numerous, even in a race where the incumbent is the target, and one of those benefits was prominently on display at Gee’s launch – a lineup of leading local elected officials from throughout the county, reflecting Gee’s two-term tenure on the council and his service to two of the more prominent countywide bodies, the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors.

Among those at the event: outgoing Councilman John Seybert, who emceed the event, Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre and former Councilman Jeff Ira, San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla and Councilwoman Diane Papan, San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, Atherton Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan and South San Francisco Mayor Pradeep Gupta.

There also was a strong showing of colleagues from the transportation boards, including Burlingame Councilwoman Emily Beach, who serves on the county Transportation Authority, SamTrans and Caltrain board member and Belmont Councilman Charles Stone and SamTrans board members Rose Guilbault and Josh Powell.

Also on hand: Stacey Wagner, head of community relations for Kaiser Permanente, and Veronica Escamez, founder of the Redwood City nonprofit Casa Circulo Cultural, who spoke in support of Gee, declaring him an “honorary Latino” for all his activities on behalf of that community.

In his own remarks, Gee said he will continue to pursue his goal to “protect the quality of life for residents, ensure a strong economy for our local businesses and support financially responsible decisions that prioritize city services and public safety departments to keep our city a great, safe place to call home.”

He said the city has worked hard to provide more housing options for seniors, young families, veterans and low-income residents and he promised to look at “new innovations,” including removing “barriers to small-unit condominium development.”

He listed a series of specific priorities for the next four years: start construction on the Habitat for Humanity housing project downtown and find a fifth site, “protect our residential neighborhoods from ‘monster homes’” by proposing new floor/area ratio standards, facilitate more housing for seniors, complete construction of the Bayfront Canal, identify funding for the Highway 101/84 interchange project, complete electrification of Caltrain and execute a private/public partnership for the revival of the Dumbarton rail corridor.

He said he will continue to be forward-thinking in his service on the council and “whether it be autonomous vehicles, innovative living arrangements, high speed trains, a new bridge across the bay or things we cannot even imagine right now … we owe it to ourselves to see what may be right around the corner and to try to figure out how it may affect the quality of life in our city.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.