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D-16 Republican David Shepard. (Photo: ShepardforSenate.com)

Senate District 16 Recount Continues in Central Valley

Less than two dozen votes currently separate Hurtado, Shepard

By Evan Symon, December 27, 2022 9:03 am

The recount of the close Senate District 16 election between Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) and David Shepard (R) continued on Tuesday, with both sides hoping that the final tally will come in their favor.

Hurtado was only winning by 20 votes in the original vote count.

The Central Valley race was the closest race of the 2022 election in California. The newly redrawn district shifted to covering parts of Fresno, Kings, Kern, and Tulare counties, shifting the district from a largely-Latino, leaning blue district to one that is more diverse, as well as more solidly purple.

Shepard, a farmer who had large bases of farming and Latino support, quickly took the lead following the primary in June. However, Hurtado managed to keep up, selling herself in ads as “The California version of Joe Manchin”. On election day, the close election remained undecided, with the race still not being called throughout November. In early December, the race was finally called with the vote total being  locked in at 50% and Hurtado only winning by 20 votes, 28,457 to 28,437.

While Hurtado was sworn in, Shepard quickly mounted a recount effort. Fresno, Kern, and Tulare counties all began their respective recounts last week, with costs amounting to around $6,500 a day for the Shepard campaign. While some ballot envelopes and signature verifications have been challenged so far, with around 80 being challenged in Kern County alone, official recount totals have yet to be released due to Kings County only beginning their recount beginning today. Earlier this month, a joint statement by both candidates said that potentially hundreds of ballots remained uncounted.

“Every vote should be counted, period,” said the Senators in a joint statement last month. “The Central Valley’s Senate District 16 race between Melissa Hurtado and David Shepard is extremely close with a margin reportedly at 20 votes out of more than 136,000 votes cast.

“There reportedly are 14 ‘cured’ ballots that were submitted in Fresno County yesterday, which have yet to be counted. Reports also are swirling that there’s a handful of uncounted ballots in Kings County still remaining and 600 to 800 uncounted ballots in Tulare County still remaining.”

As of Tuesday morning, the recount has uncovered 3 additional votes for Hurtado in Kern County, with only 1 other going to Shepard, with Hurtado now leading by 22 votes.

Elections experts noted on Tuesday that it may not be until early next year that the recount total will be known.

“Kings [County] will take awhile, as will some others,” explained Tony Villi, a close-elections researcher who tracks close state-level legislative elections, to the Globe on Tuesday. “A difference of twenty votes, in a race where both candidates said that there were hundreds of potential uncounted votes and more than 70 being challenged in only one county is more than enough to figure that this is far from over. Both sides really want this. If Hurtado has to step down following being sworn in, that would be very embarrassing for the Democrats, nevermind the fact that they lost a critical Senate seat. For Republicans, losing here means they can’t get a significantly easier to win district, albeit one with a moderate Democrat challenger.”

“We’ve been waiting for a definite victor in this one since election day, and we may not have one two months after the fact at this rate. You can bet that both sides will fight for every vote until the recounting stops.”

Recounting in the Kings County Election Office is expected to go from December 27-29, and will resume beginning January 3rd. If Shepard reverses the victory through the recount, it will be the first state election since 1980 where a recount changes the victor.

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Evan Symon
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