The tense East Palo Alto City Council race, which was marked by a neck-in-neck battle for one of two open seats, came down to just 19 votes between second- and third-place contenders Martha Barragan and Webster Lincoln, respectively. In the end, it was Barragan who won.
Barragan, a teacher, was certified as the winner by San Mateo County on Thursday after gaining a late lead over data scientist Lincoln. She was initially in first place on election night, but she slipped to third after being surpassed by Lincoln and incumbent Mayor Ruben Abrica.
Lincoln held first place before Abrica gained the lead. The data scientist remained in a solid second place until more ballots were counted. At one point, just one vote separated the top two vote-getters.
But as the final mail-in ballots were counted, Barragan inched into second place, where she stayed.
Barragan said in an email that she is looking forward to serving her community in a new capacity.
"There are a number of issues that we all agree need to be addressed. Among these are safe streets, the opening of our parks, taking care of our seniors, and creating opportunities for small businesses and accessible housing for the residents.
"The election competition is behind us and it's time to focus on cooperation to keep our city on the move," she said.
For Lincoln, the loss was the second time that he was so narrowly defeated.In a similarly close vote in 2020, he finished just 69 votes behind Antonio Lopez, who won a seat that year.
Lincoln went to court after that election, challenging Lopez, who he believed engaged in electioneering by offering free tacos to voters on Election Day outside a polling place at Saint Francis of Assisi Church. The court didn't agree with him.
This time around, Lincoln said he wouldn't challenge the results.
"Mathematically, the statistics are unlikely to change the results. Given that there were seven candidates on the ballot, the amount of vote splitting was too much of a deficit to overcome," he said.
The candidates had similar views on many of the issues, which he said also exacerbated the split vote.
The election also created some roller-coaster-like moments. Lincoln had already been receiving congratulatory messages for 10 days when the last 1,000 mail-in ballots that reversed his win were counted.
"It was frustrating to see a switch 10 days after Election Day. The state Legislature should do something to address that," he said, noting concerns about the amount of time it took to count the ballots, most of which were mailed in.
Still, Lincoln said he was satisfied with how he ran. "I think I ran a good campaign and focused on the issues," he said.
He attended all of the six council candidate forums this year, and he attends City Council meetings and knows the issues well, he said. But he couldn't help noting that his rival won without having made a similar commitment. Barragan, who didn't go to any of the community forums held in East Palo Alto, only took part in a virtual forum sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly. Lincoln said he also hasn't seen her at any council or committee meetings.
"I don't want it to sound like sour grapes, but it is concerning that we have people making decisions citywide" who haven't shown a commitment to the process.
As for his political future, Lincoln said it depends on where he's at when the time comes.
"If I have the opportunity to run again, I would," he said.
Abrica received 21.8% of the 4,077 votes cast by city voters with a 35.6% voter turnout. Barragan gained 19.7% of votes to Lincoln's 19.5%. Among the other four candidates, Mark Dinan received 17.2%, Jeffrey Austin had 8.6%; Q Smith received 7.2% and Gail Wilkerson attained 6%.
Abrica was not immediately available for comment on his win.