Ballot counting still underway in Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — We may be over a month past the 2022 midterm election, but in the Central Valley, the vote counting is still underway.

After a contentious campaign season and razor-thin outcome, Republican candidate David Shepard requested a recount in all four counties of the Central Valley’s 16th State Senate District.

Shepard fell short of Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado in November by just 20 votes, although that does not include the five ballots in the district Kern County processed on Saturday.

“If this was within 2,000 votes or, say, 500, I don’t think it would make much of a difference,” Shepard said. But a margin this thin, he said, is a different story. “I think it’s only fair to the constituents of District 16 that somebody says something.”

In California, the person requesting a recount has to foot the bill for the cost it takes for election officials to recount the ballots. Shepard said he is paying for it with help from individual donations and the California Senate Republican Caucus.

Kern County estimates the recount will cost about $6,226 a day. It is unclear at this point how many days the recount will take.

Tulare and Fresno have already started their recounts. Kern County will kick off the process on Wednesday morning.

“The way we store ballots is in batches. We’ve identified which batches the requested precincts are in,” Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk-Registrar of Voters elect Aimee Espinoza said. “We know how many ballots were cast for each precinct, so we’ll have to pull all of those out. And then from there, those go on to the tabulation room. “

It comes as Kern’s announcement of 10 uncounted ballots found after the certification deadline on Dec. 8 has led to questions.

“Why weren’t they initially processed in the first vote count? Where were they discovered?” Shepard said.

Kern County Registrar of Voters elect Aimee Espinoza explains mail-in-ballots are typically kept in mail trays on racks, but six were set aside because they needed to be crossed-referenced between the Kern County and state system to make sure the person was eligible to vote.

“Six ballots are about that high and they were on a higher rack. And so they were just overlooked,” Espinoza said. “And it wasn’t until after we certified that our vote by mail supervisor walked through and brought them to our attention. The other four were military ballots.”

The county successfully petitioned the Kern County Superior Court to extend the deadline to include those ballots and says the office is taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“At the very end, right before certification, there will be a walk-through now between the supervisor and the division chief and myself,” Espinoza said.

The county says five of those 10 ballots were in the 16th Senate district but emphasized five is not enough to affect the outcome.

Neither candidate was sworn in with the rest of the state legislature in early December. However, Hurtado was since sworn into the 16th Senate district seat after the certification of the county’s results.

In a statement, Hurtado told Fresno, KSEE, a KGET sister station “my campaign does not anticipate the recount changing the outcome of my election as State Senator in Senate District 16.”