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Kern County elections office says it finished counting votes, Hurtado still leads in Senate District 16 race

State Senator Melissa Hurtado stands in a green park for a portrait.
Melissa Hurtado Campaign website
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado has apparently cinched a victory for California's newly drawn Senate District 16 by just 24 votes, though neither campaign has claimed victory.

Update: The California Secretary of State updated its total vote count, showing a 20-vote difference between the candidates as of 4:50 p.m. Thursday. See original story below.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – The Kern County elections office confirmed by phone to KVPR Thursday that it has finished tabulating results exactly one month after Election Day.

That includes results for the contentious and closely watched California Senate District 16 race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Melissa Hurtado and Republican challenger David Shepard.

The votes in Kern County were the last remaining in the district, which contains portions of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and all of Kings County.

The final update in Kern County votes filed by Mary Bedar, the county's auditor-controller and clerk, to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, puts Hurtado in the lead, and potentially winning the race, by 24 votes. She doubled her previous 12-vote lead.

However, neither candidate was publicly claiming victory as of Thursday. Since the early days of the election, Hurtado had trailed Shepard, a Tulare County grower, by thousands of votes.

If the margin proves accurate, it would be the closest race in the California Senate in over a century, according to data collected by California State Library spokesman Alex Vassar. Across all counties in the district, Hurtado earned 68,449 votes to Shepard’s 68,425, according to the state’s election count. 

Hurtado did not immediately respond to KVPR’s requests for comment, but on Twitter stated, “In case anyone is eager to know, I found my first gray hair today.”

Her opponent Shepard also took to social media earlier this week to express frustration with the Kern County elections department. He pointed out inconsistencies between the number of unprocessed ballots reported in the county compared to the number of ballots that were tabulated on certain days.

Kern elections officials accounted for the perceived discrepancy, pointing to challenged ballots that were later cured. A challenged ballot refers to those where a voter’s signature doesn’t match the one on record and requires further verification. The deadline to verify, or cure, those ballots was Tuesday.

Shepard’s campaign declined to state whether it would pursue a recount pending the official results.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors is expected to certify the results at a special Friday morning board meeting, according to the county clerk’s paperwork submitted for approval by the board. Friday is the county’s deadline to submit its results to the California Secretary of State’s Office.

The state will then certify all state election results and post them online by Dec. 16.

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.