BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Nearly a month past the midterm election, we have a major update in one of our most competitive races in the Central Valley. But with just days to go until the results must be certified, the outcome still hangs in the balance.

In the Central Valley’s 16th State Senate District race between Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado and Republican David Shepard, Shepard had led the contest since election night. That changed Friday with a results update which saw Hurtado narrowly take the lead with just 12 votes separating the pair as of Monday night.

In Kern County, about 880 votes were released in the 16th Senate District.

On Nov. 30, the county estimated it had about 720 ballots left to count, but Auditor-Controller-County Clerk-Registrar of Voters Mary Bedard explained that estimate did not include challenged ballots that were cured by Friday.

“When we estimate, and it is an estimate of what we’ve got left, it’s based on what we actually have here that we know are eligible to be counted,” Bedard said. “We do not include all of the challenged ballots in that estimate.”

A ballot is challenged when a voter does not sign their ballot or the signature does not match the one the county has on file. The county gives the voter a chance to submit a new signature to be checked so their vote can be counted.

“The fact that one candidate is ahead at a certain point in time while we are still counting ballots, there is no final result. And in this case, yes, you’ve got cure letters coming in fairly large numbers. And so if those cure letters favor one candidate over another, that can easily make the results change because those people’s votes are being counted,” Bedard said.

The three other counties in this district — Fresno, Tulare and Kings are now done counting ballots, according to the Secretary of State’s unprocessed ballots report. Kern estimates it has about 100 left to count, but that doesn’t include any ballots that could be cured between now and Tuesday night, the deadline for the county to accept new signatures.

Bedard said about 3,000 ballots were challenged and about 1,548 have not been returned. Official results must be certified by Thursday.

When it comes to a recount, there is no automatic recount in California but anyone, including a candidate, can request one. That person has to pay the cost it takes to recount the votes, which Bedard said varies based on the number of ballots in a race.