Twin Rivers candidate Elkarra trails, but sees possible path to victory

Basim Elkarra
Basim Elkarra

Charter school executive Sonja Cameron has a significant lead over civil rights activist Basim Elkarra in their race for the Twin Rivers Unified School District board, but Elkarra said Wednesday he believes he still has a chance to win if last-minute mail ballots swing his way.

Cameron had 55 percent of the vote compared 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 the day of the election in order to count. But a new state law now allows votes to count as long as they are postmarked by the day of the election 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.

55% Share of votes won by charter school executive Sonja Cameron in Twin Rivers Unified race as of Wednesday

Elkarra, 35, said Tuesday night that he was planning to run again in 2016. But he was more optimistic Wednesday about the special election outcome – 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 authorized by the Twin Rivers district but operates independently.

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.

Though the candidates weren’t ready to declare the race over, Twin Rivers Unified Superintendent Steven Martinez called Cameron the winner in a letter posted on the district website Wednesday.

“As we welcome Mrs. Cameron to the board, it is our goal to create a collaborative and productive leadership team to serve all students and staff,” Martinez said.

Deputy Superintendent Bill McGuire said the letter was written after 100 percent of the precincts had reported and Cameron had a 10 percentage-point lead. He acknowledged the letter should have indicated that the vote has not been certified yet.

“Right or wrong, it would be strange in politics for absentee ballots to change the election results that much,” McGuire 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 for about a month before Democratic Party activists and neighborhood leaders collected enough signatures to force a special election, saying they believe trustees illegally cut short the selection process.

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