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California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

June 1, 2018

GOP now at number 3

Election 2018

June 6, 2018 12:29 am

Marshall Tuck, Tony Thurmond advance, setting up referendum on charter schools

Education Reporter
Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond addresses supporters at his watch party in El Cerrito. Photo by Jessica Calefati for CALmatters

Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck split the vote in Tuesday’s race for superintendent of public instruction, setting up a high-profile November contest that could become a costly referendum on charter schools.

The candidates are backed by two of Sacramento’s most powerful special interest groups —Thurmond by the California Teachers Association and Tuck by the California Charter Schools Association. They’ve already dumped a combined $10 million into the race and are expected to spend even more in the months ahead.

With almost half of the vote counted, Tuck leads the field of four candidates with 38 percent. Thurmond captured 33 percent. And surprising some observers, the two lesser known candidates, Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland, each captured more than 10 percent. Unique among the statewide races, a candidate could have secured a win outright by garnering 50 percent plus one vote—but as the returns rolled in, it became clear that no one would clear that bar.

Thurmond, a Democratic state Assemblyman from Richmond, watched the returns at Los Moles, an El Cerrito restaurant that featured a taco bar and live salsa music. His supporters erupted in cheers when he arrived late after attending his daughter’s 6th grade graduation.

Asked about the prospect of a general election all about charter schools, Thurmond said such a race would miss the mark given the range of challenges California’s public schools face.

Marshall Tuck locks arms with supporters at his watch party in Los Angeles. Photo provided by the Tuck campaign.

“We have a teacher shortage we should be talking about. We aren’t preparing young people for careers in technology, and we should be talking about that,” Thurmond said in an interview with CALmatters. “I wish those people who spent millions against me would have spent that money on making public education better.”

Tuck spent election night at home in Los Angeles, where he hosted a watch party for family and friends in his backyard. Reached over the phone shortly after 11 pm, he said he was pleased to be in first place and struggling to get his six-year-old to bed.

He, too said he hopes the November election won’t be dominated by the discussion about charter schools.

“The charter question doesn’t come up with my audiences the way it does in the media,” Tuck said. “Voters care that California’s schools aren’t serving kids well. They’re concerned about base funding levels. Not about this.”

Given former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s poor showing in the race for governor, and his billionaire donors’ strong support for charter schools, a quiet race for superintendent seems unlikely.

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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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