UPDATE: As of Nov. 18, at 4:30 p.m., first-time challenger and doctoral student Antonio Lopez maintained his lead against Webster Lincoln, a data scientist and another newcomer to the East Palo Alto City Council race, with 67 votes. Lincoln had initially been in the lead for the third council seat, though with shrinking margins as small as four votes, before he was overtaken by Lopez on Nov. 11. Lisa Gauthier keeps her first-place finish with 3,298 votes and Carlos Romero still stands in second place with 3,201 votes. Results will be updated on Friday, Nov. 20, at 4:30 p.m.
Candidates Lisa Gauthier, Carlos Romero and Webster Lincoln have taken the lead in the race for three open seats on the East Palo Alto City Council, according to unofficial results from the San Mateo County Elections Office.
The Elections Office is reporting 5,576 votes have been counted for the council race as of 4:30 p.m., Thursday. (For the overall county, 65.1% of submitted ballots have been counted.)
East Palo Alto City Clerk Walfred Solorzano said Wednesday that around 8,000 votes are expected to be counted after seeing a record voter turnout, with 5,400 ballots cast by Tuesday morning and a surge of last-minute voters coming in later that evening.
In a race with seven candidates — three incumbents and four challengers — election results are showing a distribution of votes among the candidate. None has received more than 20% of the total votes.
So far, incumbent Lisa Gauthier sits at the top with 2,290 votes, followed by former vice mayor Carlos Romero, who has 2,121 votes, then newcomer Lincoln, with 2,058, and newcomer Antonio Lopez, the 26-year-old doctoral student who hoped to mobilize youth voters this election cycle, with 1,931 votes.
Seeing the initial results, Lincoln said in an interview with this news organization that he believes the city of East Palo Alto made the right choice.
As a newcomer to the race, Lincoln has a long list of issues, from restorative justice to police reform, that he hopes to home in on during his four-year term. But right now, his immediate focus, should the final vote count cement his spot on the council, would be to address the impacts the coronavirus has had on the city.
"The most important thing is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure there's protections in place so residents are not displaced and the essential needs are taken care of," Lincoln said. "There's a lot of things we want to do but we have to take care of this pandemic."
Similarly, Gauthier said there are a lot of issues to address in the city, from housing to the East Palo Alto Sanitary District. But right now, the longtime East Palo Alto resident and mother of three said she's focused more on family matters with a new grandson from her daughter now in the picture.
"I left the campaign trail as of Sunday to be with my daughter," Gauthier said.
The incumbent also said she did not want to call a race prematurely in a council election that can be decided with less than 200 votes, especially since they'll be spread out amongst six other candidates.
Lopez, who is increasingly closing the gap between him and Lincoln with just 127 votes, also said in an interview that he was campaigning until the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, which could impact the final results. Still to be counted are conditional voter registration or provisional ballots.
Romero, an affordable housing consultant, said that he believes people turned out for him because of his nearly four-decade track record in the city, first serving on the Rent Stabilization Board in 1984 and later joining the council in 2008.
But like Gauthier, the former vice mayor agreed that anything can happen to the results in the next few days.
"In the last 2016 election, I was in fourth place, trailing Lisa by about 257 votes, but ultimately ended in first with over 250 votes of Larry Moody," Romero said. He also added that the "past is not the prologue" and 2020 is an anomaly, considering all the ways COVID-19 could have affected voter behaviors.
The lone incumbent who sits below Lopez in the results is Larry Moody, the former mayor and vice mayor who is seeking a third term on the council.
"I haven't taken it all in yet," Moody said. "This might be the first time on Nov. 3 that I went to bed not certain that I was going to be reelected."
Out of all the candidates taking the lead, the longtime East Palo Alto resident said he was a bit surprised to see Lincoln at the top of the results.
"I wish I could say I know him, but I don't," he said. "I've never met him and I think many in the community felt that way."
This election, a record 11,748 people are registered to vote in East Palo Alto. Though it doesn't necessarily translate to the number of people who participated in the council election, more votes are expected to come through in a race that is showing very tight margins.
The total voter count for this year's election is also expected to surpass the turnout of the 2016 election, when 6,965 out of 10,221 registered voters cast ballots, according to statewide data analyzed by the Bay Area Equity Atlas.
This story will be updated as more results come in.