Sacramento's charter requires that newly elected City Council members be sworn into office on the fourth Tuesday following the first Monday of November. Normally, that would be today.
This year, that's not happening.
In a nation divided by its politics, Sacramento has provided a neighborhood-by-neighborhood view of just how narrow the margin between two candidates can be.
Three weeks after the election, neither of the two City Council races on the November ballot has been determined. Both remain separated by historically thin differences.
"I've never seen anything like this," said City Clerk Shirley Concolino. "It's been crazy."
The wait for results corresponds with a growing tide of vote-by-mail ballots a record 75,000 this year dropped off at polling places in Sacramento County on Election Day. Unlike ballots mailed in earlier, these votes aren't counted until after Election Day.
Elections officials say they aren't sure how many ballots were dropped off on Election Day in the disputed City Council districts, and so can't say with certainty what role they played in delaying the results. Normally, the races would have been called even with hundreds of ballots remaining to be counted.
This year, the contests are just too close.
That's especially true in north Sacramento, where developer Allen Warren jumped ahead of former Councilman Rob Kerth by 35 votes in an update released last week. And in the district representing Land Park, the central city and a slice of South Natomas, biotech firm manager Steve Hansen led architect Joe Yee by just 139 votes after nearly 25,000 had been counted.
County elections officials plan to release another update of the results this afternoon. Even then, Concolino isn't planning on those results providing her with total clarity; she's scheduled the swearing-in ceremonies for the winners of both races for Dec. 11 two weeks after the charter's deadline.
At this point, the elections office is down to counting provisional ballots, of which there are roughly 27,000 remaining countywide. Those are ballots filled out by people who went to the wrong polling place or didn't show up as registered to vote on Election Day. Many of the ballots will likely be ruled invalid.
The county has until next Tuesday to verify the results of the election. After that, losing candidates could request a recount. That process costs upward of $10,000 a day billed to the candidate who makes the request and could last several days, said Brad Buyse, the county's campaign services manager.
So what have these aspiring politicians been doing for the past three weeks, not knowing if they have new jobs at City Hall?
Despite the uncertainty, Hansen said he has had a very nice November. He's gotten back into the gym, spent some time in the office and visited his family in Minnesota over Thanksgiving.
"It's not as fast as everybody might like," he said Monday, "but I'm OK with it."
Hansen's doing fine, but there is apparently some nervous energy in his campaign. Members of his campaign staff, as well as those working for Kerth, were hanging out at the county elections office Monday, serving as unofficial observers of the counting process.
"It's like watching paint dry," Hansen said.
Yee said he has traded one kind of stress (campaigning) for another (waiting). But he's also been able to check out for a bit, forgetting to listen to his cellphone voice mail.
The voting patterns in the two council races have broken down largely by geography.
In District 2, Warren dominated the precincts around Del Paso Heights, the gritty neighborhood where he was born and raised. Kerth was more successful in his Woodlake neighborhood and in old North Sacramento, where his family has lived and operated businesses for decades.
The same disparity was seen in District 4, where Yee led in every precinct in Land Park, the area he's called home for more than 30 years. Meanwhile, Hansen led throughout midtown and in much of downtown, where he resides.
Consultants on all sides expected both races to be close.
"We never thought this was going to be a cakewalk ," said Warren. "It could still go either way."