California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
From calmatters.org, governor candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox on how they will address wildfires in California.
Rivals for the governor’s office Gavin Newsom and John Cox agree that wildfires pose an alarming threat to California—but what would they do to prevent and combat them? We asked the question. Here’s what they told us—from Newsom’s call for the state to be more aggressive in clearing dead trees and brush to Cox’s advocacy of more logging and skepticism about how much the state’s paying state firefighters.
These two will face off in November for the governorship.
A rebuke, a snub, a progressive smackdown—these are the terms headlining coverage of the California Democratic Party executive council’s vote this weekend to back liberal state legislator Kevin de León in his longshot bid to unseat veteran U.S. Dianne Feinstein.
Both are Democrats, but while Feinstein has become a Washington D.C. institution with a reputation in the U.S. for moderate, pragmatic problem-solving, de León has fired up the Democratic base by being a relentless, vocal foe of all things Trump. State party activists have long been lukewarm about Feinstein, but as she’s seeking her fifth six-year Senate term, more have grown adamant about replacing her with a younger, more progressive face.
Her campaign had lobbied the members of the state party board to remain neutral, but in this weekend’s vote at an Oakland gathering, 65 percent voted to endorse de León. Just 7 percent voted for Feinstein, while 28 percent opted for no endorsement.
So how much of a boost does de León gain from the decision of some 300 activists in the state party leadership? With the imprimatur, he can expect to receive some party campaign money, a listing on its official slate card, and access to other party support services like email lists. But the greatest gain is the symbolism of the vote, and the attention it will receive nationwide as evidence of a simmering split between Democratic progressives and moderates nationwide.
Feinstein, conversely, has huge state name recognition and has left him in the dust when it comes to fundraising (campaign reports show she has more than 10 times the cash on hand than he holds.) In the June primary, with 32 candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senate, she swept every county, racking up 44 percent of the vote to de León’s 12 percent.
The state party’s executive committee endorsement suggests its sentiments are further to the left than the larger group of Democratic delegates to the state convention in February, where Feinstein failed to win an endorsement but so, too, did de León.
But progressive leaders cheered him for authoring legislation that made California a sanctuary state, and calling for the impeachment of President Trump. “We have presented Californians with the first real alternative to the worn-out Washington playbook in a quarter-century,” said de León.
Feinstein has edged further left herself in recent months, reversing both her opposition to legal recreational marijuana and her support of the death penalty.
Because of California’s top-two rules, the two Democrats will be the only candidates on the November ballot.
Give yourself a round of applause, California. For a decade, voter participation during midterm primary elections has been slipping down and down. Last time around, in 2014, the state hit an all time low for voter apathy: only one-in-four registered voters bothered to participate.
But this June, we broke the trend. With all ballots counted (finally), a little over 37 percent of those registered to do so got out to vote. (The Secretary of State’s office has a few more days to finalize the numbers.)
Granted, 37 percent might not seem like a triumph of civic participation. But it’s all relative. Getting voters to turn out during off-year elections, when a presidential candidate isn’t on the ballot, has always been a tough sell. Doubly so during primaries—which many voters evidently consider a skippable dry run before the main event in November. This year’s participation rate marks a ten-year high for midterm primaries.
Why the increase? Was it enthusiasm about the gubernatorial standoff between Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox? Excitement about the first viable political independent running for statewide office, in Steve Poizner? Were water conservationists inspired to turnout in mass to support Prop 72, which changed the way that rainwater collection systems are taxed?
Probably not, said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.
Instead, the Trump factor loomed large.
“This particular ballot was not all that sexy,” he said. “The reason for the higher turnout is because of what’s going on in Washington D.C., not what’s happening in California.”
That’s largely borne out by the numbers. Some of the biggest increases in turnout relative to the 2014 midterm primary were in areas with the most competitive congressional races. Orange County as a whole saw a 19 percentage point increase in turnout
Zoom in to the level of Assembly district and the two areas that saw that biggest bump hug the coast between Dana Point and northern San Diego County. That’s home to two congressional seats that Democrats hope to flip this November. Prior to election day, it was ground zero of millions of dollars in advertising and get out the vote efforts. Both districts saw turnout spikes of over 20 points.
That surge in voter enthusiasm “was a little bit of a surprise, but not unexpected,” said Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
Local factors did play a role in some cases. San Francisco, for example, also saw a significant turnout increase. There weren’t any competitive congressional races there. But there was a nail-biter mayoral election that drew national headlines.
Despite the higher than expected turnout, the composition of the electorate may not have changed much. In California, voters tend to skew older, whiter, and more affluent—especially in midterm elections—and there isn’t much evidence thus far that changed this year.
What the data shows: Districts with higher rates of poverty or with a higher population of people who do not speak English very well tended to vote less. Districts where more residents identified as white and non-Latino tended to vote more. Those stats describe districts, not individuals—there are, of course, exceptions.
Automatically mail every registered voter a ballot, they said. Get rid of all those neighborhood polling places. Replace them with convenient dropboxes and a few “super store” voting centers. That will boost turnout, they said, and hoped.
In the June primary, five counties tried it. The result? Their average turnout shot up by 12 percent—but so did the state average.
After record-low turnout in the last midterm election, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo counties were the first five counties in the state to opt to participate in a new election model passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature in an effort to get more people to the polls.
Compared to 2014, Napa, Nevada and Sacramento counties had a 10 to 12 percent increase in voter turnout this year. Two were outliers: Madera’s turnout increased 8 percent, and San Mateo’s shot up 17 percent.
Let’s put that into perspective. Voter turnout in the 2014 primary was dismally low, so it didn’t take much to outdo that year’s turnout with 37.6 percent of registered voters casting ballots.
One way to look at it is the counties didn’t lose voters after making the biggest election change in recent history. The other interpretation is that the switch failed to increase turnout beyond that of other California counties who ran their elections the old way.
It’s obvious the vote center model was particularly successful in San Mateo County. One thing to note: San Mateo was one of a few counties that tested out parts of the new model, mailing ballots to every registered voter during a local election in 2015. As a result, last month’s primary voters and the city knew what to expect.
“We had a pretty intensive engagement process,” said Jim Irizarry, assistant chief elections officer in San Mateo county. “That’s the key…and voter education and outreach was a high priority.”
In the other four counties, the lack of a “tryout phase” may have hurt turnout. In Sacramento County and no doubt elsewhere, voters were puzzledby the difference between voting centers and dropbox locations—confusion that the county is looking to remedy before the general election.
“We wanted to get all of the information to the voters in a very compact way, and I think that was a bit confusing,” said Alice Jarboe, interim registrar of Sacramento County. “Moving forward, I won’t make a combined document. It will be two separate documents. It will be very clear that ‘this section is for dropboxes, and this section is for vote centers.’”
Madera elections officials didn’t respond to questions about why their turnout growth fell behind the state average. But Rebecca Martinez, that county’s registrar, said shortly after the primary: “A lot of voters told us they didn’t read the materials,” Martinez said. “They didn’t know that we’d been open 10 days before that. They didn’t know.”
Researchers across the state are collecting data from the June primary and the upcoming November general election to better assess how voters responded to the new system.
After 2018, other counties, except Los Angeles, may opt to switch to the new election model.