UPDATE: As ballots continue to be counted, the results for this race have not changed significantly since Election Day. The Registrar of Voters is posting updates at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily on its website.
Incumbent Ken Dauber won re-election to the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday, but a nail-biter of a race for the second open seat is continuing, prompting speculation that a recount may be needed.
With all precincts reporting by Wednesday morning, Dauber, the current president of the school board, received 27.28 percent of the vote, or 6,860 votes. A software engineer, Dauber was elected to his first term four years ago and ran on similar issues in 2018, including transparency, compliance, student mental health and more effective governance. In 2014, he was the top vote-getter with 29.5 percent, or 10,709 votes.
Special-education advocate Stacey Ashlund, attorney Shounak Dharap and Kathy Jordan have been locked in a tight race since unofficial results came out after 8 p.m. on Tuesday. By 11 p.m. Dharap had gained from fourth to second place, with an incredibly tight margin, at one point as narrow as a single vote, separating him and Ashlund.
By Wednesday morning he pulled slightly farther ahead, with 5,451 votes compared to Ashlund's 5,426. The margin only increased by one vote by a Thursday evening update posted on the Registrar of Voters website, as ballots continue to be slowly counted.
By Thursday evening, parent Kathy Jordan was 79 votes behind Ashlund with 21.26 percent of the vote, or 5,348 votes.
The county registrar requires an automatic recount in contests with a margin of victory less than 0.25 percent of ballots cast or 25 total ballots, according to an official canvass manual. Spokesman Steven Spivak said the registrar doesn't expect to announce a recount in any race until the third week of November, as vote-by-mail, provisional and damaged ballots continue to be counted. As of Thursday, there were 290,000 uncounted ballots county-wide.
• View an interactive graphic showing the tight race between Ashlund, Dharap and Jordan.
Dauber said he was "encouraged" by the results of the election.
"I think it's a clear sign that community is happy with the direction that the school board is leading the district and wants to continue that progress," he said. "I'm grateful to the voters for their confidence in me and will work hard for the education and wellbeing of all of our students."
Dharap spent the evening surrounded by supporters at a joint election party he held with City Council candidate Cory Wolbach at The Patio in downtown Palo Alto. He was monitoring the updated results into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
"Every vote matters," he said Wednesday morning. "We say that a lot during elections but it's particularly clear when there's a margin of 25 votes."
He described himself as the "underdog" among the three leading challengers -- a younger candidate with no children or yearslong advocacy record. A contentious debate over reporting weighted grade point averages prompted Dharap, who graduated from Gunn High School in 2008, to get more involved in district issues last year.
"The fact that a young, non-traditional candidate like myself is in such a tight race is really a testament to the community that rallied around my vision," Dharap said. He ran on commitments to transparency, legal compliance and student well-being.
If he loses, Dharap said without hesitation that he plans to run again for a seat on the board in 2020. He called the campaign experience "life-changing."
"There are not many times in life you get to see so many different perspectives on issues that at first glance can seem clear cut. When you're talking to hundreds of people in a week you begin to see the shades of grey," he said. "Whether I win today or I don't and I run again in two years and I win then, that's an experience that's going to inform how I govern."
Ashlund, a longtime advocate and district parent, held an electionn night party at Celia's Mexican Restaurant in Barron Park. She said that she had expected a close race.
"Results this close show that our community feels the three of us are all highly qualified for the second seat on the board," she said Wednesday morning. "As mail-in ballots are counted, we are reminded how much every vote matters -- especially those from young, new voters. Local races are where we can really feel our individual impact in the democratic process."
Ashlund wouldn't say whether she would run again in two years if she loses, but said that her "commitment to the issues has not changed" and she will "continue taking this one step at a time."
Jordan, who ran primarily on criticisms of the district's handling of Title IX cases, fiscal management and other compliance issues, said Wednesday morning that she heard a "clear desire for change" throughout the campaign. She out-fundraised her competitors with more than $50,000 in campaign contributions.
"There are many votes left to count, so we'll wait to see what the final results are," Jordan said. She was unsure whether she'd run again if she loses.
In the final days of the school board election, the campaign tone took a contentious turn, with parents forming a campaign committee in opposition to Jordan and sitting school board member Todd Collins loaning the committee money to pay for an advertisement criticizing her interactions with student-journalists.
Jordan said she was "surprised by the level of negative campaigning that went on.
"But we're hanging in there," she said. "I'm still standing. I think we sent a strong message, and that's important."
Two parents who worked on Jordan's campaign team attributed a civic awakening in the local Chinese community to Jordan. For some Chinese-Americans in Palo Alto, this election was their first time canvassing for a candidate -- and for others, even their first time voting, the parents said as they watched results come in during a small gathering at Jordan's house on election night..
"We want to make our voices heard, really take a very active part in this democratic process," Amanda Chi said. "Usually you see Chinese-Americans being described as a so-called silent group ... but this time we do see the differences."
She said she hopes the school board election has helped to "awaken the sense of community in our Chinese community, especially to be more integrated into the entire community."
She and parent Vicky Huang, who are both Chinese-American, said they supported Jordan for her commitment to transparency and because they believe she, if elected, will take concrete rather than "artificial" steps to address what they described as "damaging" stereotypes about the Chinese community and other ethnic groups in Palo Alto. Most recently, racial and ethnic fissures in the school community were brought to the fore by a heated debate over the renaming of two middle schools.
Chi described Jordan, a former professional tennis player, as a person with "a strong will to execute."
"We do not like lip service," she said.
Candidate Alex Scharf, a recent Palo Alto High School graduate, received 7.39 percent of the vote, or 1,859 votes, as of Wednesday morning. Christopher Boyd, the director of an after-school program, received less than 1 percent of the vote.
Reached between election parties, Scharf said he was happy to get the number of votes that he did.
"Hopefully getting that many votes, people can recognize that I have good issues and I'm not very likely to win but at least the other candidates hopefully take what I said seriously and make some changes based on what I said," Scharf said.
Boyd wrote in an email that he was "grateful" to have participated in the campaign and called the other candidates "outstanding citizens of Palo Alto that deserve great applause for their achievements in life and for their participation in the election."
Dauber won 36 out of 47 precincts in Palo Alto. For more on the precinct-by-precinct results in the race for the second seat, view this interactive map that shows where each took a lead over the two other challengers.
Between the three leading newcomers, Dharap's support is spread throughout Palo Alto. According to unofficial results, he has won precincts in the Crescent Park, Old Palo Alto, Professorville, Leland Manor, Triple El, South of Midtown, Palo Verde, Fairmeadow and College Terrace neighborhoods, as well as the area surrounding Gunn High School.
Among the three, Ashlund has won precincts in downtown North, University South, Old Palo Alto, Southgate and areas close to Stanford Shopping Center. She also took the lead in Barron Park, part of the Greer Park neighborhood and Los Altos Hills precincts, according to the unofficial results.
Jordan's support is sprinkled throughout the city. Among the three leading newcomers, she has won Evergreen Park, two precincts that make up the bulk of the Duveneck-St. Francis neighborhood, the precinct where Ohlone Elementary School is located, a section of Midtown, one of three precincts in Adobe Meadow/Meadow Park, Palo Alto Orchards and the neighborhoods near Esther Clark Park and Alta Mesa Memorial Park.
Dharap and Jordan are tied in three precincts.
Dharap's slim lead is particularly tenuous given the number of ballots that have yet to be counted. County-wide, only 55 percent of ballots had been counted as of Thursday, according to the Registrar of Voters.
In the 2016 school board election, the vote counts increased by as much as 5,000 from the Thursday after Election Day to the final results.
Dauber and whoever is elected to the second seat will join trustees Melissa Baten Caswell, Todd Collins and Jennifer DiBrienza on the dais.
A bond measure and term limits proposal also on the ballot both passed comfortably. About 68 percent of voters supported the $490 million Measure Z, which will fund the next major phase of facilities improvements across the school district, and 72.34 percent voted "yes" on Measure Y, which will limit board members to two, four-year terms in office.
Measure Z campaign co-chair Susan Usman was celebrating at the Old Pro in downtown Palo Alto after the unofficial results came in.
"We're very happy," she said, "We're hoping to get to 70 percent of the votes but a win is a win. We'll take it."
Dauber, who supported the term limits measure, said that the results indicate the "community wants as open a process as possible for running for public office, including the school board, and term limits are an excellent mechanism for doing that."
This story will be updated as more results are released.