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Candidates remain in limbo amid prolonged wait for election results

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The Santa Rosa City Council met Tuesday for the second time since the election last month. The agenda included a review of plans for federal housing aid tied to the 2017 fires and a decision to end the little- used SMART shuttle serving the city’s downtown. Homeless advocates rose from the audience to decry the city’s continued crackdown on unsanctioned encampments.

Also in attendance — seated on opposite sides of the room: Victoria Fleming and Dorothy Beattie, the two candidates still locked in a razor-thin race for Santa Rosa’s District 4 council seat.

Three weeks of ballot counting have decided even the most bruising of contests nationwide. Florida held recounts for Senate and governor. GOP-held House seats in California flipped to Democrats, helping swing control of one chamber of Congress. Mississippi even held its second election in November, a runoff for a Senate seat.

But with no updates from Sonoma County election officials since Election Night, voters in Santa Rosa, Windsor and several small fire districts remain on edge over the outcome of a handful of council races and tax measures.

The 169-vote margin separating Fleming and Beattie is among the slimmest. Roughly 3,900 mail ballots remain untallied in the race, with a state deadline looming Thursday to complete the count.

Fleming, the leader after Election Night, with 43.5 percent of the vote, remains cautiously optimistic that her advantage will hold. Of her attendance at the council Tuesday, she said it was important that the northern Santa Rosa district have a representative prepared to take office once the winner is declared.

“If nobody prepares to be successful, then nobody will be successful,” she said.

Waiting for word on election results is normal in politics, Beattie said, but “usually you know (if) you’ve won in November.”

Up to 40 percent of the all ballots cast in Sonoma County in the Nov . 6 election — or about 81,000 ballots — remain untallied after Election Night. Deva Proto, Sonoma County’s incoming clerk-recorder-assessor and elections chief, said officials hoped to finalize the vote tally early but the office had not set “any concrete date” other than the Thursday deadline.

The county is among a minority of jurisdictions statewide that does not issue periodic updates after Election Night — an issue that Proto and a long line of her predecessors have chalked up to an outdated computer system used in the tallying.

Daisy Gomez, the Santa Rosa city clerk, said the city’s plan is to formally install the next council on Dec. 18, including re- elected councilmen John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm.

Meanwhile, the waiting game goes on for Fleming and Beattie in Santa Rosa, as for other contests still too close to call.

In Windsor, where 10 candidates ran for three at-large Town Council seats, initial results indicate that Esther Lemus is poised to join the council and that incumbents Sam Salmon and Dominic Foppoli will retain their seats. Councilman Mark Millan, who trailed in fourth after Election Night, congratulated the top three before learning that some votes had yet to be counted. A Press Democrat analysis suggested that more than 4,000 ballots remain untallied from Windsor voters.

“It’s an odd situation,” Millan said, making it “very difficult to plan.”

Millan, a communications consultant for water projects, has a business trip to Monterey scheduled for Wednesday, when Windsor is tentatively set to install new council members, pick a mayor and vice mayor. Without more clarity on the final results, those steps may need to be put off.

The uncertainty is tough on voters and candidates alike.

“Just imagine,” Millan said, “you think that you won, but maybe you didn’t.”

Other races that hang in the balance include tax measures to increase funding for fire services in Monte Rio, Valley of the Moon and in the sprawling Rancho Adobe district, including Cotati, Penngrove and unincorporated areas near Petaluma.

Fleming and Beattie have used the delay to brush up on a number of issues and tasks that will fall to one of them in the coming weeks.

Fleming, a clinical social worker, took notes during a study session Tuesday at which a city-paid consultant informed officials that inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had underestimated the damage done to Santa Rosa homes by the October 2017 wildfires by more than half.

Beattie, a landlord and mortgage finance and technology consultant, listened intently during a lengthy council hearing on price-gouging prohibitions, a fire-related regulation which the city may seek to extend. Afterward, she reflected on the tone of the meeting and the polarization she saw between different interest groups on a number of contentious issues.

Finding consensus on those issues, including housing and homelessness, would be a priority for her on the council, she said.

“It’s good to study,” she said. “It makes a good citizen out of two people, one of which will sit on council.”