With thousands of late absentee and provisional ballots in the county yet to be counted, Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Dave Roberts has a lead in the District 3 county Board of Supervisors race over Brian Bilbray's former chief of staff, Steve Danon.
Roberts’ campaign contends the lead will survive the next rounds of ballot counting, pointing to the latest trends in the vote counts that took him from trailing by nearly 1 percent for much of Tuesday night to leading by as much, 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, Wednesday morning.
Danon, however, pointed to trends that he thinks suggest just the opposite will happen, and to numbers estimated for the campaign by the Registrar of Voters’ office that enough ballots remain to be counted for him to overcome his current deficit of 1,896 votes.
Approximately 475,000 absentee and provisional ballots are still to be counted throughout the county. According to the Registrar’s estimates, Danon’s campaign said Wednesday, District 3 could own at least 79,000 and as much as 100,000 of those.
“This race is definitely too close to call,” Elise Dufresne, Danon’s campaign spokesperson, said Wednesday. “I think that’s a substantial number.”
Roberts’ campaign manager, Gary Gartner, said that although the campaign did speak with Registrar Deborah Seiler on Wednesday, the campaign did not discuss with her how many ballots are estimated to remain in the district.
The 475,000 absentee and provisional ballots left to be tallied countywide represent about 36 percent of the countywide vote. While acknowledging that the estimates for District 3 are not hard, certifiable figures, Danon feels confident assuming that they’re close to reality.
“If you look at some of these tighter races, with this as one of them, the campaign may be over, but the election isn’t,” Danon said.
As of Wednesday morning, with early absentee ballots and all election-day votes counted, Roberts had received 69,131 votes compared to Danon’s 67,235 votes.
The district seat was left open after long-time District 3 Supervisor Pam Slater-Price announced early this year that she would not be seeking another term. Slater-Price, a Republican, chose months ago to endorse Roberts, a Democrat, instead of fellow Republican Danon, making the late ballot counting Tuesday night something to watch for those wondering if the county might elect its first Democratic supervisor in years.
As the 11 p.m. hour wore on Tuesday, Danon held the lead he initially took with absentee returns released at 8 p.m, but it was of less than 1 percent and diminishing with each update.
"I think the trend is in our direction," Slater-Price said late Tuesday. "He [Roberts] clearly is such a superior candidate."
Calling him the hardest worker she'd ever seen, Slater-Price was only trying to read the tea leaves, but her assumption of trends was correct. By the time updates came in around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, Roberts had taken a lead. With the final updates, he had reversed the situation entirely, taking a lead roughly as large as Danon's was for much of Tuesday night, with 50.7 percent of the vote and all precincts reporting.
The results are yet to be official, but if the numbers hold, Roberts will be the county's first Democratic supervisor since Leon Williams in 1994.
“Every time we got a new update, it kept getting for us better and better,” Roberts said Wednesday, indicating his optimism for counts going forward. “You know, I’m an optimistic person by nature, and I knew that the initial votes coming in may not be the best category that I would get votes out of.”
The early absentee ballots, he said, were from voters who hadn’t had a chance to see his argument in full force, noting that his campaign had long been outspent in getting the word out since before the primary. He expects a much different result in the late absentee and provisional ballots, placing his bets on them mirroring election-day votes.
“Those initial voters may not have known me,” Roberts said. “They hadn’t seen my mail, they hadn’t gotten a call, we hadn’t walked to their door. But as the campaign wore on … it became apparent that my message was catching on, and I think that’s why you saw last night, people that voted at the polls much more knew who I was, what I stood for and wanted to support me.”
Danon rejected those assumptions Wednesday, pointing to absentee and provisional ballot results in the June primary.
“In the primary campaign, on election day, I won the primary with 900 votes,” Danon said. “When you looked at the absentee and the provisional ballots, I went up 2,400. I actually did better in the absentees than the actual election day.”
He also said that in races countywide, he’s noticed a trend that the late absentee and provisional ballot counts more closely align with the early absentee counts reported on election night than vote totals from ballots cast on election day itself.
Roberts’ last day as a councilman in Solana Beach will be Dec. 14, and he’ll assume office on the Board of Supervisors Jan. 7 if his lead holds up. An examination of priorities would follow, he said, but he already has an idea of what may top his list.
“There are a number of things that I’m interested in,” Roberts said. “I need to really get into the office to see what the priorities are. During the campaign, I talked about the economy and the ability for the county to really get out of the way to help create jobs in the private sector. One of the things I’m interested in is considering is some type of office to help small businesses grow.”
Should things turn around with the remaining absentee and provisional ballots, and Danon re-claim his lead and take the seat, his top priority when assuming office, he said, will be continuing on the momentum created by the recent formation of the Department of Planning and Developmental Services. The new department creation was a fusion, in some ways, of the former Department of Planning and Land Use and the Department of Public Woks — an attempt by the county to cut red tape and speed the permitting process.
“We have nearly one in 10 San Diegans that are out of work right now — it’s closer to 15 percent. It should not take two to seven years for businesses to get their permits to expand, so government does not create jobs, but it definitely creates an environment for jobs to be created.”