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Rep. Brian Bilbray and Unified Port of San Diego Commissioner Scott Peters are through campaigning for the 52nd Congressional District seat but the race continues at the county Registrar of Voters office in Kearny Mesa.

The race could continue for days or weeks, depending on the numbers and the ongoing review process at the Registrar of Voters office.

We decided to break down the latest and get you up to speed on the both the possibilities and the reasons for delay.

Where are we at now?

Workers have processed and counted ballots for 12 hours a day since the polls closed last Tuesday but more than 200,000 mail-in and provisional ballots remain. Many are from voters in the 52nd District.

As of Tuesday evening, Peters led Bilbray by 2,660 votes.

Peters’ lead has widened considerably since the initial results, which had separated the two by only 685 votes.

Tom Mitchell, Bilbray’s campaign manager, acknowledged the math doesn’t favor his candidate but said the campaign is eager for finalized results.

“The Bilbray campaign wants every ballot counted,” Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, an optimistic Peters traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a training session for new lawmakers.

County Registrar Deborah Seiler says she expects all valid mail-in ballots, most of which were dropped off rather than snail-mailed, to be counted by the end of the week. Then workers will review another 100,000 provisional ballots.

What’s taking so long?

Turnout was high and thousands of voters turned in mail-in ballots on Election Day, rather than mailing them ahead of time. And more voters filled out provisional ballots.

Seiler said every one of those ballots must be processed individually.

Here’s how that process is working:

• After 8 p.m. last Tuesday, workers from each of San Diego County’s 1,527 polling places brought red canvas bags filled with ballots to the County Registrar’s Office. Staffers then separated the provisional and mail-in ballots and counted them.

• Workers have been feeding the ballots into a sorting machine that separates the mail-in ballots into batches. The machine also ensures the signature on each voter’s registration card matches the one on the mail-in ballot. The contraption later sorts the ballots by city.

• Next, staffers at the Registrar’s Office get boxes of ballots to review. They take each mail-in ballot out of its envelope and check for mistakes. “We watch for anything that would cause a vote not to be counted or counted properly for that voter,” Seiler said.

• Ballots that are damaged or include write-in candidates go into separate piles for further review.

• Once the ballots are checked, they go to a restricted area to be counted by machines.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
In a restricted area, workers count votes from the Nov. 6 election at the county Registrar of Voters office.

(Provisional ballots come with their own challenges. Workers double-check mail-in ballots to ensure such voters didn’t turn in multiple ballots and check voter registration rolls to find out if the person is registered and in what precinct. They also make sure the voter didn’t vote on races outside their city or district.)

Spokespeople for the Bilbray and Peters campaigns say they’re eager for a conclusion to the time-consuming process but say they appreciate the thorough job.

Staffers from both campaigns have spent hours observing the process.

What’s next?

The county expects to get through thousands of mail-in ballots in coming days but reviews of provisional ballots could continue until Dec. 4, when the Registrar of Voters plans to certify the final results.

That work could continue if one of the campaigns intervenes. The Bilbray and Peters campaigns will have five days to request a recount after the results are certified.

Neither campaign would say if that’s a possibility.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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