When the clock hit eight on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the polls closed and many people found themselves constantly refreshing their phones to see the latest results of the presidential election. While 2020 has been regarded as a pivotal election year, the election also saw important down-ballot shifts in Santa Cruz politics.
Out of a crowded field of nine candidates, Santa Cruz City Council filled four open seats this year. Two incumbent council members, Martine Watkins and Sandy Brown, were reelected to their posts, while nonprofit strategic manager Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and business community director Sonja Brunner won the remaining two seats.
Kayla Kumar, who campaigned alongside Council Member Brown and fellow candidate Kelsey Hill, came the next closest to being elected, finishing in fifth place and trailing Kalantari-Johnson by about 1,500 votes.
“No matter the result of this race, what has emerged is the beginning of a new wave of intergenerational progressive politics that I believe can better our city,” wrote Kumar in a Facebook post following the election.
In another local race for nonpartisan office, Assistant County Counsel Nancy de la Peña is set to be elected as judge of the Santa Cruz County Superior Court and will become Santa Cruz’s first openly LGBTQIA+ judge.
“It will mean that kids and members of the community can walk into court and see someone who looks like them on the bench,” de la Peña told the Santa Cruz Sentinel after her victory. “You shouldn’t have to go to Imperial County to see an LGBTQ judge on the bench.”
For the California Legislature, former assembly member and Santa Cruz Mayor John Laird was elected to the State Senate, and Democrat Mark Stone was reelected to the State Assembly.
As Santa Cruz County Clerk, Gail Pellerin is the chief election administrator until she resigns her post on Dec. 30 to pursue other interests. Her office manages voter registration, assists candidate filings, and counts all the votes at the end of election night.
For the March primary, she geared up for higher levels of in-person voter participation, but as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country, she had to completely revamp her plan in order to focus primarily on mail-in ballots.
Of the 140,000 ballots the county received, 92 percent were cast as mail-in ballots. According to Pellerin, voting by mail is so efficient that Santa Cruz plans to continue to model future election administration around mail-in ballots, since it provides voters more days to vote and requires the elections office to have fewer poll workers.
Although her work in Santa Cruz is nearing its end, she still hopes that turnout for future elections will exceed this year’s and that her successor’s workload in future elections will be just as busy.
“I hope we get the same level of enthusiasm and participation because, you know, democracy is not a hobby. It’s got to be a habit,” said Pellerin. “It’s got to be something we do all the time, not just when it’s big and exciting.”