Election 2020: Undervotes Matter in Local Races

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

The latest election results show one-third of eligible votes in the Natomas Unified School District school board race were not cast at the polls.

These 41,758 undervotes mean voters chose only one or two candidates, or none at all.

While undervotes are common in local races, one Sacramento County Elections official said these unused votes do impact the final results.

Image of Courtney Bailey-Kanelos

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Courtney Bailey-Kanelos

“I think something that gets lost with the local contests is really how important these contests are for the community,” said Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, Sacramento County registrar of voters.

“These contests — whether it’s school districts, water districts, parks and recreation districts, or whether it’s city council, these are the districts that really impact people’s day-to-day life and services that are available throughout the community.”

Bailey-Kanelos said Sacramento County has had some very close races where one vote made a difference. She pointed to a recent Rancho Cordova City Council race which was decided within three votes and a local water board race which was decided within six votes.

Another example, she said, was the Sacramento City Council race for District 4 in which newcomer Katie Valenzuela defeated incumbent Steve Hansen by 1,440 votes but there were 2,200 undervotes not cast.

“An undervote is a vote that has been provided for you to cast for a candidate, but you chose not to actually use it,” said Bailey-Kanelos. “It represents a choice given to a voter that they chose not to take.”

As two candidates compete for a third seat on the Natomas Unified School District school board, the importance of undervotes in a 10-way race is greater.

“The more candidates you have the chances are that those margins … would be very small,” said Bailey-Kanelos.

Bailey-Kanelos encouraged voters to use all of their votes when at the polls.

“It’s like you’re given a certain amount of tokens,” she said. “Use them or lose them, really that’s what it comes down to.”

Image showing the results of the March 2020 Sacramento City Council District 4 race.

In the Sacramento City Council District 4 race, the number of undervotes — votes not cast — outnumbered the number of votes by which candidate Katie Valenzuela won the race. / Source: Sacramento County Elections

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