Madrone in the Lead as Nail-biter 5th District Race Draws to a Close

Ryan Sundberg and Steve Madrone

Ryan Sundberg and Steve Madrone were in a tight race but the latest results from the Election Board indicate Steve Madrone is the likely winner. [Photos from the candidates’ campaign photos]

Reprinted with permission and slightly adapted from an article in the North Coast Journal by Thadeus Greenson:

The Humboldt County Elections Office just released its first post-election update, which has challenger Steve Madrone growing his lead in the Fifth District over incumbent Ryan Sundberg to 103 votes, or 1.51 percent of the ballots counted thus far.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders said these results still do not include all outstanding ballots in the race…[She added] that the only ballots that remain outstanding in the Fifth District are the up-to-315 provisional ballots from Election Day, which still haven’t been vetted or counted, and another 16 or so vote by mail ballots that have yet to be scanned. With a maximum of 331 ballots outstanding, Madrone’s 103-vote lead looks commanding and the race seems just about over. To pull the race out, Sundberg would need to take almost 66 percent of the ballots that remain to be counted…

When the dust settled on election night, Madrone had jumped out to a slim, 33-vote lead, having taken just 0.69 percent more of the 4,796 votes counted than Sundberg. And that represented an abrupt shift from the election night report that came out just 45 minutes earlier, which had Sundberg holding a 185-vote lead.

In the wake of Election Day, Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders estimated there were anywhere from 1,220 to 2,252 ballots yet to be counted in the Fifth District race. The post-election report adds 2,024 votes to the tally.

In a Journal analysis of the last two Fifth District races, we found that Sundberg seemed to lose steam after the initial vote tallies on Election Day. Historically he has taken about 2 percent fewer of the votes counted after Election Day than those included in the final election night tally. That pattern held true in this race, in which Sundberg finished election night with 49.56 percent of the vote but pulled just 48.07 of the votes tallied since.

The Fifth District nail biter has joined the likes of a handful of elections decided by slim margins. In 2002, Eureka saw Peter LaVallee edge out Cherie Arkley to take the mayor’s seat by 42 votes. Four years later, Jeff Leonard edged out Ron Kuhnel for a Eureka City Council seat by 32 ballots, or 0.4 percent of the vote. When Sundberg took the county’s Fifth District seat back in 2010, he eked out a win over Patrick Cleary by just 154 votes. And most recently, in 2014, Kim Bergel edged out incumbent Eureka City Councilman Mike Newman by just 46 votes in a race that flipped with the post-election results.

While there’s no mechanism for an automatic recount in California law, either candidate or any voter can request one, so long as they are willing to pay the cost, which generally runs well into the thousands of dollars. But in Humboldt County, there’s also another option — the Elections Transparency Project, which runs all ballots cast in the county through an optical scanner, scrubs their images of any identifying marks and makes them available, with open source counting software, to anyone wanting to audit the results. You can find more information — or request those ballot images — at

After the final post-election report, whenever it comes, the results will still need to be certified by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to become final, which is statutorily required to happen before July 6. The Secretary of State will then certify statewide results by July 13.

The post-election report did not shift any other local races. View the full report here, and see past Journal coverage of the Fifth District race and why it takes weeks for the elections office to produce a final tally here.



  • I’d like to think Rex is next but I suspect he has the hicks in his district wrapped around his finger.

  • I hope Madrone does a great job and genuinely looks out for the best interests of his constituents. BOS has a lot of power in Humboldt.

  • Madrone has a unique set of skills that can benefit us all. Hes a very reasonable person and has done lots of hands on work with water, he’s a master spring box builder!!!

  • Am excited for a (potential) Madrone victory. Yet am confused by the coverage.
    I heard a news story on KMUD last night that sounded like Madrone had been determined, by a ‘final count’, the winner. Then this morning on KHSU the local Host, like RHBB, pointed to the remaining uncounted votes.
    If Ryan only needs to gain 66% of the remaining votes, this race is not over.
    Fingers crossed!……

    • Well, first of all 66 percent would be an incredible number, and go against all of the trends so far. Provincials tend to favor progressive candidates, and even if he could generate a 2/3 vote total, that amount assumes that every single provincial ballot is valid. If only 240 are valid (I think 3/4 was about the validity rate of provincials in the last election count I paid attention to) then Ryan would have to win 3/4 of them.

      In other words, it’s over.

      • Thanks for that Eric. I am now ever more hopeful!
        Seems to me that this is a great example for the power of a motivated turn-out! (Steve’s people were more excited than were Ryan’s. Let that be a lesson to the lackluster national Democratic party).

  • 100 Summer Street in Loleta is an odd location for this election transparency project. its a house. and isn’t Crnich a county employee. maybe I am missing something. its also odd she is friends with Hank and Ryan of Loco on FB.

  • Carolyn Crnich is a retired elected county official. Her efforts to keep elections honest has been noticed far and wide.

    There is nothing odd with anyone “friending” people on FB. I must have too much time on my flippers.

  • Mitch Trachtenberg

    The transparency project only exists because Carolyn Crnich was willing to let outside observers scan anonymous cast ballots after the County elections office finished their processing of them. She is now on the board of the nonprofit that has been created to run the project.

    I don’t understand what is wrong with people, and have given up trying.

    • after researching the “Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing” non-profit and finding out it is a good ol boy sham I would have to say I am a little concerned about non-profits and their intentions around here.

  • Kym – What happened to the Fortuna school bond?

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