The votes are (mostly) in

An anxious election night in Chico; a contentious election week for the country

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with their families at a Nov. 7 victory event. (Photo courtesy of Biden/Harris campaign.

Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.

Most major media outlets made the call on Saturday (Nov. 7), after it was projected that Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes would go to the former vice president, giving him 273, or three more than needed to defeat incumbent Donald Trump. Since then, Arizona and Nevada went the Democrat’s way, and at press time the total stood at 290 for Biden and 214 for Trump, with Georgia (leaning Biden) and North Carolina and Alaska (Trump) still too close to call.

While the 2020 contest has turned out to be a referendum on Trump—who lost the popular vote by more than 4 million and becomes only the fifth president in the past century to fail in a reelection bid—the results in other races, locally and around the country, have been much more mixed.

The predicted “blue wave” didn’t really come ashore. Though many polls had forecast the U.S. Senate to shift to a Democrat majority, it likely will come down to January runoffs for Georgia’s two seats—both of which would need to be won by Dems—for a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.

Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives, but their majority will be less than the current 35. In the North State, Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa is projected to win the District 1 seat over challenger Audrey Denney, with 56.9 percent of the vote (pending final certification by Dec. 11).

In Butte County, voters chose Biden over Trump, 49.5 to 47.7 percent. In Chico, however, in the city’s first district-based council election, voters overwhelmingly went red, electing a slate of four ideologically aligned candidates and flipping the panel to a 5-2 conservative majority.

Nov. 3 snapshot

Though dropping off a ballot on Election Day has been the norm during most years, 2020 is—by most measures—a strange beast. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rules were tweaked to allow mail-in ballots across the country. The prolonged count for that, plus a very high voter turnout in general (101,342 ballots and 81 percent turnout in Butte County, and nearly 160 million projected, or more than 66 percent of voting-eligible population, nationally—the highest in more than a century) meant a long counting process. Many contests were too close to call on Nov. 3, adding more stress to an already tense election.

Anxiety ran high among many people the CN&R spoke to throughout Election Day after they delivered ballots at Chico’s various voting locations. Some expressed concern about nationwide rumors of voter intimidation and conflict at polls, which fortunately failed to manifest locally.

“Not great” is how Shyanne Scott described feeling after dropping her ballot in the box outside of Chico State’s Bell Memorial Union (BMU). “Whatever happens this election will change our world forever,” she said, referring specifically to the presidential race. “It already has.”

Solomon Smith, who voted for Biden at the BMU voter assistance center, said the primary issue that drove him to vote this year was police reform.

“We all saw what happened to George Floyd, and stuff like that just has to stop,” he said. “Trump hasn’t reacted well to [ensuing protests and calls for justice and reform]. I think his biggest misstep is that there was a real chance to unite people, and that wasn’t done at all.”

Election officials gather last-minute ballots from drop-box at Butte County Library in Chico on Nov. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Smith said he’d personally helped a co-worker register to vote, and that he’s spoken to many people who were eager to cast ballots this year after sitting out of previous elections.

He also expressed worries shared by others that election results could lead to unrest, particularly since Trump continues to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in votes. Republican operatives are currently working to block some of those votes from being counted in some states, and Trump supporters have been hitting the streets for “Stop the Steal” protests and rallies all over the country, including Chico (see “Defeat and denial,” page 11).

“People are so divided right now, I’m hoping that whatever the outcome is things will go back to normal,” he said.

Frank Walker dropped his ballot outside the voter assistance center at Luna—the rental space adjacent to Sol Mexican Grill on The Esplanade in north Chico. When asked who he voted for, he pointed to a Trump flag flying from his pickup truck and said, “‘The Man,’ of course!”

Walker said he pays attention to both sides of the political spectrum and researches both mainstream media and what he classified as “conspiracy theories,” many of which he claimed have proven to be true. He said any lingering doubt he had about this year’s big race was cleared up by the conservative conspiracy that a laptop allegedly abandoned by Hunter Biden at a Vermont computer repair shop proves his father, Joe, engaged in illegal schemes in Ukraine.

As much as Walker and Smith’s expressed political views differ, both wished for a reunited country during these divided times. Walker related that a close friendship had been damaged recently by political differences, and said he nearly “came to blows” with that friend.

“My best friend and I … if we’re at odds, this country doesn’t stand a chance. The people shouldn’t be fighting each other over politics. Whoever they are, we should stand with our neighbors instead of some guy in Washington.”

Patricia Goodwin, a site manager for the voter assistance center at BMU, oversaw a group of 14 volunteers there who provided services including registering voters and replacing lost envelopes and ballots containing errors. She said people were lined up before the site opened at 7 a.m. on Election Day and estimated more than 225 voters had been helped by 1:30 p.m.

Crystal Rocha, site manager at the Luna site, said about 150 people had sought assistance and voted there by mid-afternoon that day. Other voter assistance centers were located at the Chico Masonic Family Center, Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and the Elk’s Lodge.

Rocha and Goodwin both reported their sites didn’t experience any aggressive politicking, intimidation or disgruntled voters.

“Everyone has been wonderful,” Goodwin said, while Rocha said the sentiment she’d most heard was that people were happy not to have to wait in line to drop their ballot.

Ballot drop boxes were located outside the voter assistance sites, as well as the Chico Municipal Building, Chapman Elementary School and Butte County Library in Chico. The CN&R observed a steady stream of voters dropping their ballots at the library several times during the day, with a handful turned away after the box automatically locked at 8 p.m.

The only party in town

The biggest election result, locally, is the projected conservative sweep of the four open Chico City Council seats (mail-in and in-person ballots have been tallied—only provisional remain). In District 1, incumbent Sean Morgan beat Curtis Pahlka by more than 24 percentage points. Newcomer Kami Denlay’s 4,290 votes were more than the combined total between Steven Breedlove (1,529) and incumbent Mayor Ann Schwab (2,665) in District 3. Former Councilman Andrew Coolidge withstood a strong showing by first-timer Lauren Kohler to take District 5, with 2,048 votes to Kohler’s 1,743 and incumbent Randall Stone’s 545. And a close race in District 7 is most likely going to Deepika Tandon with 2,899 votes to Rich Ober’s 2,642.

COVID-19 and related regulations limiting private gatherings and business capacities lead to a dearth of election night celebrations. The sole exception that the CN&R could track down was at Chico’s DoubleTree hotel, where more than 100 local Republican candidates and their supporters gathered in the bar and conference center.

There were hugs all around at an election night party for local Republicans at the DoubleTree hotel in Chico. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Those present at the hotel around 9 p.m. included LaMalfa, California Assemblyman James Gallagher (who was also re-elected) and several conservative City Council candidates. Despite projections showing Biden leading in electoral college votes by then, the party was buzzing with celebratory energy following the 8:30 p.m. posting of unofficial tallies by the Butte County Elections Office that indicated a tentative victory for three conservative council candidates, which turned into a definitive victory for all four when the count was updated on Friday (Nov. 6). Face-covering-free attendees exchanged hugs and handshakes and feasted on finger sandwiches.

Denlay stood near the center of the room, hugging husband Joshua Klingbeil and accepting congratulations from well-wishers.

“I feel really good; I had such a great team and so many people working for us,” she said of her win. “So I feel like it wasn’t just a win for me but a win for everybody, a win for Chico.”

Asked what her first objectives as a council member would be, Denlay said, “Anything I can do to put public safety first. We’ve got to take our parks back, we’ve got to take our downtown back.”

Arguably the biggest winner in attendance at the DoubleTree wasn’t a candidate, but was a driving force behind the potential conservative council sweep—Teri DuBose.

DuBose is the owner of Broadway Pawn and the primary organizer behind Citizens for a Safe Chico, a political action committee that raised more than $220,000—largely from developers, real estate companies and out-of-area donors—to support council bids of the four conservatives. The PAC’s objectives include banning syringe-distribution programs, controlling the city’s homeless population and bolstering the Chico Police Department to combat perceived crime increases.

“I’m feeling super good about the way the community spoke,” DuBose said. “This is what they wanted and I couldn’t be happier, because it’s time for change.

“From the bottom of my heart I love this city,” she continued. “I was born and raised here, and I haven’t liked what I’m seeing and what I experience on a daily basis. I wanted change and worked for it, that’s all there is to it.”

Rest of the races

In other notable local contests, Caitlin Dalby and Matt Tennis are the projected winners of the two open seats on the Chico Unified School Board, with 22,232 and 21,259 votes, respectively. The next closest candidate, Carrie Krueger, had 14,264 votes. There were only three measures on the ballot in Butte County: Measure D, which would provide a special tax for the El Medio Fire Protection District, was passing by a mere 29 votes; Measure E, the charter amendment allowing for Chico City Council members to be elected by district, was also barely passing with 21,570 yes votes versus 21,355 no votes; and Measure G, a proposal to change the minimum age of eligible Chico City Council candidates from 21 to 18, failed badly with only 36.5 percent voting in favor.

Patricia Goodwin, site manager for the Butte County voter assistance center at the Bell Memorial Union on the Chico State campus. (Photo by Ken Smith)

In other council races in the county, Paradise voters chose a former mayor, Steve “Woody” Culleton, the incumbent mayor, Greg Bolin, and a newcomer, Rose Tryon, to fill its three vacant seats. Incumbents Melissa Schuster and Mike “Zucc” Zuccolillo (who entered the race under the cloud of impending criminal sex charges) came in fifth and seventh, respectively. In Oroville, incumbent Janet Goodson appears to have retained her seat and will be joined on the council by current Vice Mayor Scott Thomson and Krysi Riggs—the top two vote-getters.

All of the state propositions appear to be decided at this point. Results for some of the more high-profile contests include no on Prop. 15 (update to tax law for commercial properties); no on Prop. 16 (affirmative action); no on Prop. 21 (rent control); yes on Prop. 22 (app-based drivers as gig workers); and no on Prop. 23 (new requirements for dialysis clinics).

For complete unofficial election results visit the Butte County Clerk/Recorder site and the California Secretary of State election page:

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