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California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

June 1, 2018

GOP now at number 3

If there’s one thing Democratic contender for governor Antonio Villaraigosa wants voters to know about him, it’s this: “I’m not afraid to take on tough issues.”

In a conversation at CALmatters on a day when a new poll showed him dropping into third place, the former Los Angeles mayor talked education, health, fiscal policy—and how his views depart from the Democratic Party orthodoxy because he’s a “small d” Democrat.

On closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers in the state’s  public schools, he said that the state should make sure the money is targeted to the kids who need it most rather than “spreading it like peanut butter.” But he also talked about weakening tenure—lengthening the probationary period for new teachers from two to three years—and relaxing teacher seniority rules.

He also said the state should increase financial support for low income university students, rather than push for tuition-free higher education across-the-board, as many progressives do.

“Making college free? Yeah, that’s a great goal, but I think we’ve got to make it free first for the people who are absolutely destitute, the poor,” he said. “I think you get the most bang for the buck, if you want to deal with this, with the kids who need it the most.”

He endorsed the idea of a state-run public insurance option that anyone can buy into, increasing reimbursement rates for doctors that serve low-income Californians, and expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants. But he reiterated his skepticism over stalled legislation that aimed to create a single payer insurance system across California—a bill endorsed by his Democratic opponents Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.

That division was eminently clear at the party’s state convention last month where Villaraigosa received 9 percent of the delegate vote in the contest for the party’s endorsement—and as he acknowledged, a much higher share of the booing and heckling.

“I’m not a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I’m a Democrat because I believe the government has got to work for more people. I’m not a partisan warrior.”

It’s not a new persona for Villaraigosa, who sells himself as the candidate willing to speak unpleasant truths to lawmakers, interest groups, and even voters.

But there may be a downside to telling people what they don’t want to hear.

A poll released this evening by the Public Policy Institute of California showed only 12 percent of likely voters support Villaraigosa for governor—a 9 point drop for him since the institute conducted a similar survey last January. (Both polls had a margin of error of more than 4 percentage points.)

“We’ve always believed that we’ve got to get into the run-off,” said Villaraigosa, who in the latest poll comes in third among likely voters behind Newsom and Republican candidate John Cox, and ahead of fellow Democrats John Chiang and Eastin, as well as GOP candidate Travis Allen.  Under California’s “top two” primary system, only the candidates who come in first and second place during the June 5 primary will move on to the general election ballot. Villaraigosa said the biggest threat to his campaign “is a Republican knocking me out, if they consolidate….I’ve got some work to do—and I’m going to keep on working.”

Taken at face value, the new poll marks an unwelcome reversion for the former mayor, who had been eating into Newsom’s lead in most polls since last September. It also shows steep drop-offs in support from some of the demographic groups that the Villaraigosa campaign is most counting on.

In Los Angeles, his home turf, the former mayor is now 1 point behind Newsom; in January, he had nearly a 20 point lead. Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Newsom used to be mayor and dominates public opinion, Villaraigosa is now polling below the Republican Cox.

While Villaraigosa still had the support of more Latinos than any other candidate, at 37 percent, that’s 11 points down from the beginning of the year. Drawing strong support and historically high turnout from California’s Latino population has been a key part of Villaraigosa’s electoral strategy.

The latest poll shows a quarter of likely voters have yet to decide whom to support. Said Villaraigosa: “I don’t think the support among Latinos is anywhere near where it’s going to end up.”

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In 2014, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and noted political eccentric Tim Draper sponsored a ballot initiative to divide California into six states. The effort failed, considered by many to be politically impractical and legally untenable. So Draper has scaled back his ambitions.

Now he wants to divide California in three—and this week the Secretary of State announced that Draper had gathered the requisite number of signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.

Legal uncertainties aside (and, boy, are there are a lot of them), this invites the obvious question: How did California’s “three states” vote in last week’s primary election?

Well, it was obvious to us anyway.

Fortunately for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and John Cox, the two candidates running for governor this November, their top two spots are secure—no matter which California they choose to run in. Two of them gave more votes to the existing California’s top vote-getter, Newsom. But the third would-be state favored Cox.

Under Draper’s proposition, a newly minted “Northern California” would encompass everything from the base of Silicon Valley and Merced to the Oregon Coast. A shrunk-down “California” would hug the coast from San Benito County to Los Angeles. The remainder would become “Southern California,” including San Diego, Orange County, and—for some reason—Fresno and Tulare.

Though Cox has a lead in Southern California, registered Democrats still make up the largest bloc of voters in all three states.

In other statewide races, the three hypothetical states were largely in agreement. In his campaign to remain the state’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra got the top spot—“North,” “South,” and in-between. Likewise, all three Californias backed Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her fifth full term.

Of course, election results are still not final; there are still over one million ballots to count. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have hope yet of securing a win in coastal “California.”

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Ballots are still being counted, but last week’s election is already offering good news for Democrats hoping to take back the House of Representatives in November.

Not only did the party steer clear of its dreaded “shutout scenario,” in which an oversupply of candidates in some of the state’s most competitive races threatened to divide up the Democratic vote, leaving only Republicans to advance to the general election. The preliminary count also suggests that primary voters in certain high profile districts are much more inclined toward Democrats than they were in 2014.

That may or may not foretell a “blue wave” in California, but it does show that Republicans have their work cut out for them.

Why should the array of (mostly) leftward pointing arrows worry Republicans?

Comparing the June 2018 primary to the June primary in 2014, the share of the vote going towards Republican candidates has fallen dramatically in many of the very seats that Democrats are most hoping to flip this fall.

In the district along the border of Orange and San Diego counties represented by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who is retiring this year, a majority of primary voters cast their ballots for a Democrat.

A few more of the districts national Democrats have targeted are within spitting distance of a partisan break-even. In GOP Rep. Jeff Denham’s district in the Central Valley, Republicans cobbled together 52 percent of the vote (down from 59 percent in 2014). Likewise, in both Laguna Niguel and Palmdale, Rep. Mimi Walters and Rep. Steve Knight, the only Republicans running in their districts, got 52 percent of the vote as well.

That represents a big shift since 2014, the only other non-presidential election year in which a primary was held under the state’s new top-two system.

In Issa’s district, 16 candidates were vying to replace him in the lead up to June 5. The top two winners, Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin, won around 26 percent and 18 percent of the vote, respectively.

What would a head-to-head Harkey-Levin match-up look like without the 15 other competitors?

One way to guess is to tally up the share of the vote that went to all Republican candidates and compare it to the Democratic share. Assuming that the various supporters of Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, San Diego Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, and the other five Republicans running in that district are likely to fall behind their party’s candidate in the general election, that ought to give us a pretty good idea of what to expect in November.

And the results don’t look good for Harkey.

So far (and again, ballot are still being counted), the Republican candidates in Issa’s seat have garnered 48 percent of the vote. That’s compared to 51 percent for all the Democrats.

That’s also a steep decline from the 2014 primary share when Issa, running as the only Republican, won 61.9 percent of the vote.

Even in districts like Denham’s, Walters’, Knight’s, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s, where Republicans won slim majorities of last week’s vote, those margins may be a little too close for comfort for the GOP. Republicans tend to be more reliable primary voters than Democrats and political independents, so the Republican share of the vote is likely to be lower in most districts come November.

In 2014, for example, Republican vote share between the primary and general elections declined by an average of 1.3 percentage points. That was true of all California congressional races, excluding those where one party was shut out or where a candidate ran unopposed. Looking only at the most competitive races (again, excluding shutouts), the average decline in Republican support was 3.3 percentage points between June and November.

We’ll update this graphic as more ballots are counted.

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Election 2018

June 8, 2018 7:12 pm

With voter turnout up statewide, five California counties find new mail-in ballot system slows count

Videographer
Photo by Robbie Short for CALmatters

After years of research, months of planning and weeks of voting, the training wheels for the Voters Choice Act flew off, and county registrars and state experts are still trying to figure out what happened.

All over the state, election day is slowly morphing into election week, and counting ballots is taking longer. By tonight, some 2.5 million ballots across California had not yet been tabulated—a consequence of more voters opting to vote by mail.

But for the five California counties that implemented the state Voters Choice Act, it’s been vote-by-mail on steroids—and delayed final results.

In an effort to improve voter turnout, those counties got rid of traditional neighborhood local polling places. Instead they mailed ballots to every registered voter, who then had 11 days to cast ballots or do anything voter-related at mega-voting centers. They could place ballots in mailboxes or in an array of dropboxes scattered throughout the county.

Nonetheless many voters waited until election day on Tuesday to turn in or mail in their ballots—leaving counties overrun with ballots waiting to be processed. By state law, ballots postmarked on or before election day will be tabulated if received up to three days after the election.

The numbers suggest that voter turnout statewide will reach 36 percent—a big improvement over the record-low turnout of 25 percent statewide in the last primary midterms, in 2014.

Tuesday’s turnout was similarly higher in the five counties using the new vote-center model: Sacramento, San Mateo, Nevada, Napa and Madera. Sacramento County, the largest, had a 30 percent turnout in 2014 and appears headed for a 46 percent turnout in Tuesday’s primary.

“We had hamper after hamper of these pink bags stuffed to the brim (with ballot envelopes),” said Alice Jarboe, interim registrar of Sacramento County, adding that her staff is working 10-hour days to try to keep up.  “It is a lot of work, and when we get these huge amounts back, we just throw more temps at it.”

Californians can expect later final election results.

“I was surprised at the number of people who waited to the last minute,” said Rebecca Martinez, registrar of voters for Madera County. “I thought more people would make use of the (extra days), but I found that you still have a lot of people who still like to go someplace to vote on Tuesday.”

Inevitably, there was some confusion as voters adjusted to a new system. Some voters said they had trouble figuring out where to go to vote and when they were open. By Tuesday afternoon, Nicole Jones, 24, said she was was on her third center in Sacramento after trying to vote in person at two others accepting drop-off ballots only.

Others welcomed the voting centers and dropboxes. “This is way easier,” Stephanie Bucknam, 33, who appreciated that she didn’t have to wait in line and could just drop off her ballot. Her old precinct had been converted to a voting center, so she didn’t have to make much of an adjustment.

“Flexibility can’t hurt when you’re trying to get more people to vote,” she said. 

For voters, voting by mail is straightforward: fill out your ballot, sign it and return it.

For elections employees, it’s like an assembly line. Once they receive ballots, they scan them into the system. Someone has to verify that the signature on the ballot envelope matches the signature of the registered voter. Once the signature is verified, elections officials can separate the ballots by precinct and prepare to run them through a machine that counts the votes. There’s not one machine that does it all. With mail-in or vote-by-mail ballots, humans play a large role making sure ballots are verified, sorted and make it into the counting machine.They are also there to troubleshoot if the machine goes awry.

In Sacramento County, it takes about 80 employees to operate at capacity, and it will still take weeks to process the outstanding ballots.

Equipment can be a barrier for counties. In the state budget now being finalized, the secretary of state’s office is requesting $134 million to  cover half the cost to update all counties’ voting equipment, assuming most counties switch to the vote center model.

“There’s probably a different solutions, depending on the county,” said James Schwab, planning guru for the secretary of state’s office. “Most counties need new voting equipment, and that will speed up the counting process.”

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