With 46.80%, Alameda County Sheriff's Office Cmdr. Yesenia Sanchez led the race for sheriff-coroner and nearly received the 50%-plus of overall votes needed to win the seat outright after an initial tally of ballots on Tuesday night.
As it stands, Sanchez and her boss, current Sheriff Greg Ahern, are set to face off in November for the role of county sheriff as the top two finishers following the primary election.
Ahern, a 15-year incumbent, came in second with 36.40% and San Francisco Police Department Officer JoAnn Walker, who lives in Alameda, finished Election Night in third with 16.80%.
"When I made the decision to run for Sheriff, I knew I was risking my career," Sanchez said in a statement. "As a Division Commander in the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office -- the highest-ranking woman in the office -- the safe path was to shut up, be silent, and tow the line."
"But someone had to stand up and do something in the face of all the cruelty, extremism, and just bad decisions coming from Sheriff Greg Ahern. Today, the voters have spoken, and despite being outraised 2:1, we have finished with a commanding lead and head into November well-positioned to win," she said.
Although neither Walker nor Sanchez received enough votes to completely knock Ahern out of the race, their combined total reflects that voters may be ready for a change in leadership at the ACSO.
"The combined 63.6% anti-Ahern vote is a resounding rejection of a Sheriff who led an office plagued by scandal and brought it under federal oversight due to jail inmate deaths and mistreatment," Sanchez's campaign team said in a statement following the election.
Despite Tuesday night's upset second-place finish, Ahern told the Weekly that while he's still waiting for the final election results to come in, he's "looking forward to a run-off in November."
Ahead of the general election this fall, Ahern said, "We're going to continue to put out our message that we're going to address the five drivers of crime being poverty, unemployment, lack of education, environment and health through our four guiding principles of prevention, enforcement, programs and services and we're going to strive to make Alameda County a better place to live."
At the time of writing, Walker did not respond to requests for comment.
As of Tuesday night, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office reports voter turnout so far countywide as 10.94%, indicating some unknown number of ballots still need to be counted. The total number of ballots processed thus far were 102,804.
According to Political Data, Inc.'s primary election tracker, there are at least 57,000 ballots countywide left to count.
Ahern has held his spot at the helm of the ACSO since 2007. This election marks the first time he has faced opposition since taking the reins. If Sanchez wins the seat in November, Alameda County would see its first new sheriff in 15 years.
An Alameda County native, Ahern was hired as a deputy sheriff for the ACSO in 1980. Over the years, he rose through the ranks to become assistant deputy sheriff in 2006 and the following year he was elected the 22nd sheriff of Alameda County.
Sanchez -- also an Alameda County native -- was born in Hayward and currently resides in Livermore. She's worked for the ACSO for 24 years and climbed the ladder to become the highest ranking woman in the agency. In her role as division commander, she currently oversees and manages Santa Rita Jail.
Ahern touts his many years of experience as one of the key reasons why he should remain in the role. "It's very clear that I have the qualifications and experience needed to continue on as sheriff," Ahern told the Weekly in an interview last month. "Compare that to the other candidates, and I think (voters) would see that I'd be the best choice to be sheriff for the next four years."
According to his campaign website, his mission as sheriff is to "protect the public, build strong relationships with the community, and prevent people from turning to crime through prevention, enforcement, programs, and service. Greg knows this strategy reduces crime, provides opportunities, and ultimately keeps our communities safer."
Among the programs, prevention and enforcement strategies Ahern points to in his mission are new investigative units to combat street crimes, gang activity and DUIs, a cold case division for homicides and sexual assaults, crisis response such as wildfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ghost Ship fire, and starting a youth and family services bureau.
Sanchez's vision for the role of sheriff includes prioritizing rehabilitation of and job training for the jail population, racial justice in law enforcement, community engagement and accountability.
"The reality is the sheriff's approach to law enforcement needs to change. We need more community input and engagement, and transparency and accountability need to be priorities," she said in an interview with the Weekly.
Earlier this year at a candidates forum hosted by Livermore Indivisible, Sanchez spoke to these issues in relation to Santa Rita Jail, noting that the facility needs to have better communication with families and with the public following the death of someone in custody.
"Right now, there's no communication with families who lose someone while they're in custody and that is simply not humane. There has to be some information that's shared with the family. We should not leave them in the dark," Sanchez said during the forum.
According to Sanchez's campaign website, she is "committed to leading the Alameda County Sheriff's Office with the utmost integrity, serving the community equitably and inclusively, and making sure the Agency ensures safety in the community by investing in it."
The unofficial election results include early vote-by-mail tallies and totals reported by the precincts on Election Night. The election figures will likely change in the coming days as final vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots and other qualifying ballots are processed, according to the California Secretary of State.
The county expects to release its next results update Thursday. Any ballot postmarked by or before Election Day is eligible as long as it arrives within seven days of Election Day.
The results must be finalized for certification by 30 days after Election Day.