Mail-in voting indicates higher-than-expected turnout for runoff
Some polls have been consolidated for this election. Polls are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Voters may return vote-by-mail ballots to any of the polling places on election day or to the County Clerk's Office at 546 Jay St., Colusa. Locate your polling place at www.countyofcolusa.org.
The Tuesday runoff between Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and Democrat Michael "Mickey" Harrington may not be on the forefront of the public's consciousness, but turnout is expected to be higher than election officials first predicted.
The two men are challenging to fill the vacated seat of Doug LaMalfa's District 4 Senate seat. LaMalfa was sworn in this week as the new District 1 congressman.
Glenn and Tehama County election officials reported about 25 percent of the vote-by-mail ballots had already been returned by Dec. 28, with ballots streaming in steadily the past week.
Butte County, the largest in the expansive 12-county district had about 28 percent returned for processing and Colusa County was close to processing 30 percent.
"I was pleasantly surprised," said Colusa County Clerk-Recorder Kathleen Moran.
Although hesitant to make a prediction on turnout for the one-race special election held immediately after the holiday, election officials said they were hoping for at least a 27 percent overall turnout.
"After November's election, I think people are pretty much electioned out," said Susie Alves, Glenn County deputy clerk.
Nielsen is considered the front-runner in the mostly Republican district.
He received 188,207 votes, or 49.8 percent in the Nov. 6 primary, while Harrington got 104,572 votes, or 27.7 percent.
Although Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue had dropped out of the Senate race, his name remained on the November ballot, drawing more than 43,000 votes and keeping Nielsen from garnering the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to win outright.
It was also the race that was most often left blank by voters in November, county officials said.
Although it is not known why voters failed to cast a vote on that particular race, it is speculated that it was because Nielsen has been frequently accused of not living in the Assembly district he has represented since 2008.
Nielsen's critics believed he used the double-wide mobile home in the Gerber area to establish his residency, while he actually lives in Woodland, outside the district.
Tuesday's election would have been averted if Nielsen had picked up 1,662 more votes in November.
"It just goes to show you that every election is important," Alves said.
Since the primary, however, neither candidate has mounted much of a campaign.
Harrington has never held office, though he has run unsuccessfully for the Assembly three times. He lost to Rick Keene in 2006 and to Logue in 2008 and 2010.
But Harrington maintains he has "something to offer" on issues regarding the protection of water resources, education and jobs.
"We've been dominated by the other party for years, and they don't bring home the bacon," Harrington said in a recent interview. "The party's not working to help the state."
For Nielsen, winning would mark a return to familiar place.
He served in the state Senate from 1978-90.
He then served on the state Board of Prison Terms before being elected to the Assembly in 2008.
Tuesday's special election is expected to cost the taxpayers about $1 million.
By law, it will be conducted in the same manner as the primary, which excludes a mail-only election, officials said, although counties are cutting costs by consolidating voting precincts.
Colusa County will drop from 14 precincts to eight, with consolidation occurring mostly in the cities of Williams and Colusa.
Tehama County will consolidate the three Corning precincts into two, but its outskirts precincts, including Vina and Los Molinos will remain the same.
Glenn County's voting precincts will mostly remain the same, except the four polling places at the Glenn County Fairgrounds will consolidate into two.
Ballots that have not been mailed as of Friday will need to be dropped off at any precinct or the county election offices, officials said.
Colusa County will offer a quick drop service at the election office on Tuesday.
"We won't have someone stationed on the street, but if you pull up and honk, someone will come out to pick up the ballot," Moran said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Appeal Democrat Reporter Ben van der Meer contributed to this story.