More than a week after the general election, the race for the Area 1 seat on the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education has flipped again, with current leader Jesse vanZee now at the widest margin yet in the San Ramon Valley's closest contest this fall.
The Contra Costa County Elections Division released its second interim update with the latest vote counts on Wednesday afternoon, showing vanZee jumping ahead of fellow newcomer Michelle Petersen by 1.77% of the vote, or 249 ballots, in the three-candidate race for the open board seat.
As of Wednesday's update, the county reports that 14,098 ballots have been counted in the only competitive race for SRVUSD board. Approximately 6,800 ballots remain to be processed countywide, but it is unclear how many of those come from within SRVUSD's boundaries.
Officials said they would seek to process as many of the remaining ballots as possible by Friday.
Although vanZee said he wouldn't be officially declaring victory until after the Friday update, he was all but certain that his lead would hold.
"WOW. BIG UPDATE: With over 99% of the ballots counted for area 1, we are up by 249 votes," vanZee said in a Facebook post Wednesday. "This tally is our largest lead yet, and statistically, it is unsurmountable. The results will get finalized at the end of November, but it looks like we did it!!!! Thank you to everyone, and a big congrats to my team of volunteers.
In addition to being a tight race, the campaign for the Area 1 seat itself proved to be one of the more hotly contested ones locally, with vanZee running on a platform that heavily emphasized parental involvement, reduced spending, and the elimination of "woke education," "gender theory" and "anti-American education" according to a campaign mailer sent ahead of the election.
Despite taking on conservative talking points, vanZee sought to emphasize that his overall mission will be to reduce what he sees as division in public education, and has said during the campaign that his efforts to address problems in the district are not political.
Petersen said on Thursday that while she was discouraged by the new numbers, she wanted to encourage her supporters about the future of the district, despite her apparent narrow loss as of the latest update.
"I would like people to remember when they look at these results; we are a community that is still very much in line with the direction of this district and that we are united and not divided," Petersen told DanvilleSanRamon.
However, she attributed vanZee's apparent victory to the fact that she and the third candidate in the race, Alamo attorney Jerome Pandell, had run on similar platforms and thereby split the vote.
"Jesse vanZee won because Jerome Pandell and I split the vote. Period," Petersen said. "If you look at my votes combined with Jerome Pandell who shares a similar platform, it shows great unity and support for an overwhelming majority of this district."
As of Wednesday's totals, vanZee sits in the lead with 5,953 votes (42.25%) ahead of second-place Petersen at 5,704 votes (40.48%) and third-place Pandell at 2,433 votes (17.27%).
In the preliminary ballot counts on Election Night (Nov. 8), Petersen was in the lead throughout the night until the final update late that night, which saw vanZee pull ahead narrowly in the tally at that point. Petersen then took the lead again in the county's first interim update last Thursday.
The trio were competing for the Area 1 seat, representing the northern part of the San Ramon Valley, that was wide open with incumbent Board Member Ken Mintz choosing not to seek reelection.