Sales tax measure hangs on a single voteBy John Cote
Who says one vote can't change an election?
A measure on the San Bruno ballot that would boost the sales tax half a penny to 8.75 percent - equal to the highest in the Bay Area - was losing by a mere vote Wednesday and may not be resolved for a week or more.
When the election night counting from all 28 precincts was finished early Wednesday, the vote stood at 1,934 votes in favor of Measure F and 1,934 against. After some of the provisional ballots and absentee ballots that came in on election day were tallied Wednesday afternoon, the numbers shifted ever so slightly against the measure.
There were 2,064 votes against the tax increase and 2,063 in favor. Other provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted.
"It is quite an anomaly," San Mateo County elections manager David Tom said Wednesday. "This is an example of every vote counting, in that it does have an impact on the results."
If the sales tax measure is tied, once all the uncounted votes are tabulated, it loses. The measure needs 50 percent plus one more vote to win.
"The first thing I told people today is that nobody has the right to say their vote doesn't count," said San Bruno Mayor Larry Franzella, who backed Measure F along with the rest of the City Council.
After four years of budget cuts, San Bruno officials said, the sales tax increase was needed to improve streets and pay for city functions such as police services. Opponents argued that city leaders were to blame for budget problems and that a higher sales tax could drive out retailers.
Only about 21 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in a municipal election in which two seats on the City Council also were filled.
"I spoke to two people today who didn't vote," Franzella said. "They couldn't believe (that Measure F was tied after election day). They were in shock. I told them, 'Had you voted, you could sit here today and say, 'Because I voted, it passed.' "
In fact, the measure's fate probably won't be determined until next week, Tom said.
There are about 10,000 provisional and absentee ballots countywide that remain to be counted, but it's unknown how many of those are from San Bruno, election officials said.
Historically, about 6o to 65 percent of provisional ballots are deemed valid, Tom said. Those ballots are often cast by people who went to the wrong polling place on election day, he said.
The tax measure is winning among absentee ballots counted so far, but losing among voters who went to the polls Tuesday.
"It's really incredible," Franzella said. "This could really go anywhere."
When it's over, there probably won't be another tie. "But stranger things have happened," Tom said.
San Mateo County does not have a mechanism that would trigger an automatic recount if the final count remains extremely close, Tom said. That decision is up to elections officials.
"We will ensure that the final count we release is accurate," Tom said. "If that includes some sort of recount, we'll include that in the validation."
State law requires election results to be certified within 28 days of the election, in this case by Dec. 4. County officials hope to have their count certified around Thanksgiving, Tom said.
"It will be what it will be," Franzella said, "and we'll take our marching orders from the voters."
Copyright ©2007 San Francisco chronicle. Published 11/08/2007.