Tens of thousands of ballots from Tuesday's presidential election remain uncounted in the central San Joaquin Valley, leaving local measures up in the air and candidates waiting to learn their fate.
In Fresno County, election workers will work double-shifts and Saturdays to count a record 98,000 uncounted ballots.
Those ballots have left races in Mendota, Caruthers, Selma, Chowchilla and elsewhere in the balance, with just a few votes separating apparent winners from potential losers.
In Madera County, for example, Gary L. Svanda has an eight-vote lead over Rick Farinelli in a runoff for District 3 supervisor.
"It's eight votes, but a lead is a lead," said Svanda, who has served on the Madera City Council for the past 10 years, including two as mayor. "I feel confident it is going to stick."
Once polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth and her staff worked into the wee hours Wednesday to make sure all absentee and provisional ballots were collected. They then returned to work at 7 a.m. to formulate a plan to meet a Dec. 4 deadline to certify the election.
"We want to make sure every vote counts and every vote is accounted for," said Orth, who plans to update vote totals every Friday and Wednesday on the county's website.
So far, about 160,400 ballots have been counted, putting voter turnout at 39.1%, Orth said. Once the uncounted ballots are recorded, turnout could reach 64%, she said -- well below her 70% prediction.
In the 2008 presidential election, nearly 72% of registered voters in Fresno County cast ballots.
Voter turnouts in Tulare, Kings and Madera counties also were unclear because of uncounted ballots. Kings County reported a 63.3% voter turnout with 1,500 provisional ballots that still need to be counted.
In Madera County, voter turnout is 61%, but could hit 70% once remaining ballots are counted, said County Clerk Rebecca Martinez. Four years ago, the turnout was 79.7%.
In Tulare County, elections staff estimated 35,000 mail ballots and 15,000 provisional ballots remain to be counted. In addition, 835 voter-registration signatures are being challenged. All those ballots could push the county's turnout well above the nearly 48% recorded as of Tuesday night.
"We could be at 70% by the time we're done," said Hiley Wallis, chief deputy treasurer-tax collector for Tulare County. Voter turnout in November 2008 was 72%.
In Fresno County, the election was a massive undertaking with 2,000 election workers and 272 polling locations spread across 6,000 square miles. There were 175 different ballots, Orth said.
On election night, about 4,600 people cast their votes at the downtown elections office and another 1,500 voters used the drop-off car service.
"Politics can change so quickly," Orth said. "People decided to wait to the end to see if the political landscape changes."
Orth said there were a few complaints. One critic said political signs were too close to the polling site. It's illegal to campaign within 100 feet of a polling station, but the signs complied with the law, she said.
Another alleged that some voters at Precinct 209 in northwest Fresno received a coupon for Di Cicco's restaurants. Pat Di Cicco of the Di Cicco Restaurant family was on the ballot, running for the Fresno City Council District 2 seat against Steve Brandau. Orth said that once she heard of the complaint, she immediately dispatched an election coordinator to take care of the problem.
In Mendota, city council candidate Joseph Riofrio complained that problems with absentee and other ballots affected the vote count.
When results of the Mendota council race were first posted on the county's website late Tuesday, Riofrio, an incumbent who was seeking a fifth term, led his competition by only two votes. He said he usually wins by at least 200 votes.
On Wednesday, Riofrio still had a two-vote lead and he blamed the results on an absentee-ballot snafu that affected some voters in Mendota and Firebaugh. He also said election workers didn't have enough Spanish-language ballots at Mendota's two polling sites.
"I knew something fishy was going on," Riofrio said.
Orth, however, said voters could have used a touch-screen voting machine that has Spanish-language ballots. She also said the precincts were staffed with bilingual election workers who are trained to assist anyone with a ballot problem.
Incorrect absentee ballots were mailed to voters in Mendota and Firebaugh in early October, Orth said. Once it was discovered, a letter was sent to the voters and they were given new ballots, she said.
Riofrio said he feared voters would vote twice or not vote at all.
"It created a lot of confusion," he said.
But Orth said each ballot has a bar code.
"Once the system flags us, we check the ballot," she said. "It takes time to do this, but we do it to make sure no one votes twice."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, email@example.com or @beecourts on Twitter.