Hurtado declares victory in tightest CA State Senate race in a century

Melissa Hurtado expects to return to the Senate next month but opponent David Shepard says the race is not yet over and may be headed for a recount

KERN COUNTY – In one of the tightest state senate races in California history, Melissa Hurtado is declaring victory and a return to the California State Senate. But it may not be over just yet.

Late yesterday, the Kern County Elections Office completed its count of all of the votes in its election, which was certified by the Board of Supervisors this morning. Hurtado won the seat by 20 votes, the slimest percentage victory since before 1900, according to her opponent David Shepard. 

“After a long a hard-fought campaign, the votes have been counted and I have won re-election to the State Senate,” said Sen. Hurtado (D-Bakersfield). “Thank you to my supporters without whom this election campaign would not have been possible – our Valley farmers and ranchers along with California firefighters, public safety, teachers and nurses.  But most importantly, thank you to the voters for putting your faith in me.”

Shepard, a 29-year-old farmer from the Porterville area, has already made public statements he may call for a recount and even possibly file suit against the Kern County Elections Office if he finds evidence of any inaccuracies, anomalies or corruption. 

“We will count every ballot. We may recount every ballot. We may litigate if necessary. We will expose the inefficiencies of our government and we will fight for a seat at the table,” Shepard said on his campaign’s social media on Dec. 4.

Kern County was the last of the four counties within Senate District 16 to finish processing ballots. Kings County completed its counts on Dec. 1, followed by Tulare County on Dec. 2, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Fresno County did not finish processing ballots until yesterday, Dec. 8. Shepard has been critical of Kern County’s process, such as their lack of planning and inaccurate estimates on updates to the public. Shepard claims Kern County’s only sorting machine broke down on Nov. 14 and did not come back online until more than a day later. 

On Nov. 18, Shepard said Kern County reported there were 38,000 ballots remaining to be counted but a few days later reported it had processed more than 45,000 ballots. On Nov. 30, Shepard said Kern County reported there were 2,776 ballots remaining to be processed and had processed 2,000 votes that day, leaving the total remaining ballots processed at 720. Yet on Dec. 2, with 720 votes outstanding, they processed over 1,900 ballots, more than double the amount reported to the general public. Shepard was leading in the polls after election night until last week as the votes slowly ticked in Hurtado’s favor as the results trickled out of Kern County. The lead was as small as 12 votes as of Dec. 6.

“At best, their office is not organized and their reporting methods are duplicitous,” Shepard said on his social media last week. “If there was a single reason why CA voters would question the integrity of their elections process, they would have to look no further than the Kern County Elections process.”

Shepard’s campaign said they are not yet exploring options because the Fresno County Board of Supervisors has yet to certify the election. The supervisors are scheduled to do that at its Dec. 13 meeting.

“Let me be clear, I’m not asking for a difference in results,” Shepard said. “If the voters vote-in Melissa Hurtado, then so be it. These issues in which I bring to light should be bipartisan issues. Folks from across the aisle are speaking out against the complete and total joke that Kern County Elections Office continues to operate as.”

Unless something changes, Hurtado will again represent the Valley in the California State Senate when it reconvenes on Jan. 4, but this time she will represent the newly formed state Senate District 16. Hurtado had formerly represented Senate District 14, which encompassed portions of Fresno, Kings, Madera and Merced counties. Hurtado was first elected to the Senate in 2018 when she defeated incumbent Andy Vidak. Hurtado has been a champion for water infrastructure projects at both the local and state level and more recently provided millions in funding for local cities, including $7 million for a new civic center in Woodlake, $2 million in funding for the Lindsay Fire Department and $7 million for a new fire station in Farmersville.

“I pledge to continue working for our Valley, delivering funding for clean and reliable water supplies, keeping our schools and neighborhoods safe, combatting fentanyl in our communities and fighting for expanded access to healthcare, quality education and good jobs for working families,” Hurtado said.

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