California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
John Cox wants to slash the California income tax—abolish it, if possible. Maybe you disagree, but he thinks he can convince you.
“I don’t know why Texas and Florida have no income taxes and we do,” he said, during a recent conversation at CALmatters. “Texas, you know, is growing. Florida is growing. They’re getting tons of businesses and tons of people moving there that we could use here in California.”
As the leading Republican candidate for governor, he’s got other big ideas for reform—bold and seemingly far-fetched in California’s current political climate. He wants to revamp the Legislature by dividing the state into 12,000 neighborhood-sized districts, which he insists will take the corrosive influence of monied special interests out of politics.
He also wants to give education vouchers to private school students and enable more home schooling.
How should the state solve its housing shortage? Cut environmental regulations, he said. What about the plight of mentally ill homeless? Charities and non-profits can and will lead the way, not the state. What book should every Californian read? No surprise there: “Free to Choose” by the libertarian economist, Milton Friedman.
Cox hails from a school of conservatism, marked by a bright-eyed confidence in the power of unregulated markets to lift all boats, that almost feels like a throwback in the Trump era.
In fact, Cox didn’t support the president in 2016, voting instead for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson. That’s a fact that Cox’s Republican competitor in the race, Assemblyman Travis Allen from Huntington Beach, is constantly reminding voters. Cox says he regrets that decision now, but he clearly draws his cues from an older strain of Republican: President Ronald Reagan and the football player-turned-supply side loving congressman Jack Kemp. Cox sat on Kemp’s national steering committee when he ran for president in the late 1980s and often introduces himself on the campaign trail a “Jack Kemp conservative.” The resemblance is clear. Like Kemp, Cox seems earnest, cheerful and he’s unflinchingly optimistic that in the end, the right ideas—namely, his—will win the day.
You’d have to be optimistic to run for governor of California as a conservative Republican in 2018. But Cox—who has lost previous bids to be elected to Congress, the U.S. Senate and the White House—says he’s already planning his first term in Sacramento.
“There’s a lot of mismanagement and a lot of improvements I could make,” he said. “I’m going to have fun turning around this state.”
A Republican hasn’t been elected to statewide office in California since 2006. Registered independents may soon outnumber registered Republicans. The president is historically unpopular and the Democratic base is riled up. But Cox has never been discouraged by long odds. In his native Illinois, he ran for Congress and came in fifth in the Republican primary. Then he ran for Senate in 2002 and 2004, losing twice. In 2008, when he ran for President on a promise to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, he wasn’t even invited to any of the presidential debates.
Now the deep-pocketed businessman is running again, and has done surprisingly well up to now: The most recent polls show Cox in second-place behind Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. But the guy in third place, Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, just got a huge political lift—charter school backers intend to pour more than $8 million into his effort to bump off Cox and secure one of the top-two slots that will put him on the November ballot.
Granted, Californians split across six candidates—four Democrats and two Republicans—Cox was able to pull into the number two spot with only 15 percent of the likely vote. Maybe that modest success is due to Cox’s ability to spend more than many of his opponents. Maybe it’s because he’s the conservative in the race who isn’t Allen, a firebrand who has built his campaign around his support of President Trump and his opposition to illegal immigration. Cox has his own explanation.
At the meeting, Cox told a story of how he had struck up a conversation with an airport security guard that morning. After telling him about his plans to cut taxes and regulations, Cox said, he won the TSA agent’s support on the spot. “The woman in front of him in line heard this whole discussion and she said the same thing!” he said. “People just want something to change.”
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.”
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.
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.”