Update: Trailing Twin Rivers opponent Elkarra sees possible path to victory

Sonja Cameron
Sonja Cameron Sacramento

Though both Twin Rivers Unified trustee candidates seemed to indicate late Tuesday that charter school executive Sonja Cameron was headed to the school board, a state law allowing voters extra time to mail their ballots gave trailing opponent Basim Elkarra reason to think Wednesday that he still has a chance to win.

As of Wednesday morning, Cameron had 55 percent of the vote to Elkarra’s 45 percent. Only 194 votes separate the candidates in the low-turnout special election to represent North Natomas and Robla on the Twin Rivers board.

Before this year, California voters had to make sure their mail ballots reached election officials by election day in order to count. But a new state law now allows votes to count as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive within three subsequent days, said Sacramento County elections spokeswoman Alice Jarboe.

Last-minute mail ballots, as well as 108 uncounted mail and provisional ballots already in the hands of election workers, could still tip the balance to Elkarra. The elections department doesn’t expect final results until Monday, Jarboe said.

Elkarra, 35, said Tuesday night he was planning to run again in 2016. But he was more optimistic Wednesday about the special election outcome – just hours after his wife delivered twin boys.

“There still are a lot of ballots out there,” he said.

Elkarra has been the executive director of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for 10 years, an association that became the focus of an anonymous attack flier that attempted to appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment. Local elected officials and Cameron denounced the literature during the campaign.

Cameron, 69, is chief operations officer and co-founder of the Pacific Charter Institute, a Rio Linda-based charter school network. One of its programs, Heritage Peak Charter Institute, is an independent-study and home-school program authorized by the Twin Rivers district. The school operates independently of the school district but serves Twin Rivers students.

She said Wednesday that the outcome isn’t over until the results are certified.

“Hopefully I win, and if I don’t, I will call to congratulate him,” she said.

The special election comes after the resignation last year of Cortez Quinn, who pleaded no contest in October to conspiracy to obstruct justice in a paternity case. The winner of Tuesday’s election will serve the remaining 13 months of Quinn’s term before facing another election in 2016.

After Quinn’s departure, Twin Rivers school board members moved quickly to fill the Area 5 seat by appointing Cameron in December. But she only served as a trustee for about a month before Democratic Party activists and neighborhood leaders collected enough signatures to force a special election.

Petitioners said they had an issue with Cameron’s quick appointment. They said that trustees illegally cut short the selection process and did not consider public input. Petition supporters collected signatures over 12 days by walking door to door in the district.

Board member Linda Fowler told The Sacramento Bee she thought that Twin Rivers United Educators – the district’s teachers’ union – and Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, had engineered the petition effort and backed Elkarra’s candidacy.

Elkarra, who had applied for the appointment along with 12 others, said he decided to run for election after the petition drive succeeded.

Both candidates Tuesday night lamented the ugly tone of the contest.

Last month, an anonymous flier was distributed attempting to link Elkarra, a Palestinian American, to Muslim terrorists. The flier included a picture of Elkarra at a Muslim Youth Leadership Program sitting among Muslim girls in head scarves. A series of questions over the photo ask “Who is Basim Elkarra?” and “Why do outsiders want Basim Elkarra to make decisions for children?”

Cameron denounced the flier and said it made her ill.

“He and I have gotten along well,” she said Tuesday, saying that she and Elkarra had treated each other with respect in their personal conversations. But she said a legislator told her this was the ugliest school board race he had ever seen.

Elkarra blamed Cameron’s supporters for that. “The hate that came out of this campaign, the hate that was spewing, it was shocking,” he said.

Tuesday’s election was estimated to have cost the school district $113,000.