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Senate runoff looming

A few more weeks will pass before Yuba-Sutter has a state Senate representative, with a runoff looking likely for early January.

Final returns from Placer County posted on Wednesday evening showed Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, falling a few votes short of the 50-percent-plus-one mark needed to avoid a runoff against the second-place candidate, Mickey Harrington of Magalia.

For Yuba and Sutter counties, both of which are in the district, a runoff means the cost of a special election, likely to be on Jan. 8.

"It's not an option for us to do or not," said Yuba County Clerk-Recorder Terry Hansen, who said such a special election would cost at least $100,000. "It could very well be more."

Sutter County Clerk-Recorder Donna Johnston said she estimates the election would cost that county between $65,000 and $75,000, based on the cost of a 2009 statewide special election.

But unlike then, when the state eventually reimbursed local governments for their expenses, the fiscal burden of this election will be borne entirely by the counties.

Both Hansen and Johnston said they will have to go to their respective boards of supervisors to request money to pay for the election.

"You pretty much have to do almost everything you do for a regular election," Johnston said, including setting up polling places, finding poll workers and training them.

Johnston said in anticipation of a possible runoff, elections officials in the 11 counties in the 4th State Senate District asked California Secretary of State Debra Bowen if it could be done entirely with mail ballots, but were rebuffed.

If the prospect of a runoff was unhappy news for cash-strapped county officials, it was good news for Harrington, a Democrat who is making his fourth bid for state legislative office.

"I thought we could get into the runoff, I just didn't know if I could win the runoff," said Harrington, a retired union official and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employee.

Harrington said he recognizes the advantage for Nielsen, a Republican, in terms of voter registration, but said he also believes Democrats will be fired up to turn out for the runoff.

"I think they'll turn out because they're tired of not getting anything from our legislators," he said, adding one of his campaign planks will be getting the state to invest in the Sacramento Valley with money and jobs.

Nielsen could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

CONTACT Ben van der Meer at or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.

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