California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
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.”
The latest conventional wisdom among state political insiders: There’s a good chance a Californian will be on the presidential ticket in 2020, and that Californian is likely to be Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
Among participants in a new Target Book Insider Track survey, 55 percent say it is somewhat or very likely that a Californian makes the 2020 ticket, either for president or vice president. The survey—our attempt to put some real data behind the anecdotal estimations of conventional wisdom—is based on 34 respondents who are Target Book subscribers, an assortment of politicos, lobbyists and consultants.
When asked whom they had in mind, the overwhelming favorite was Harris, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti a distant second.
Garcetti has already made several stops to South Carolina, an important state in the primaries behind Iowa and New Hampshire.
But Harris is set to visit the state next week, according to The Post and Courier. The rookie senator has also made stops in Ohio over the weekend and was greeted by fellow Democrats as a rock star. Although she has been consistently saying she’s focused on the midterms as she campaigns for Democratic candidates across the country, she also went further than before in acknowledging her interest in 2020.
“I’m thinking about ’18 and what we need to do around these races, and then I’ll seriously take a look at things after that. But right now I’m focused on this,” she told reporters.
Harris, a former prosecutor and California’s attorney general, is the first Indian American senator and California’s first black senator. She firmly stood behind Christine Blasey Ford, Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s first public accuser, and drew headlines for her tough questioning of him during the confirmation hearing that addressed alleged sexual assault.
There hasn’t been a sitting mayor who transitioned straight to the White House, but Garcetti, who like Harris has been glowingly profiled in Vogue, has been quietly working the national circuit with visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. During these trips he would frequently introduce himself with the line: “”I come from Los Angeles, and we have a few more Kardashians than you do, but we are mostly not Kardashians,” according to a GQ profile.
For now, many national experts place Harris among the wide top tier of potential Democratic presidential contenders, behind Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. But she hasn’t given sufficient clues to determine her aim in the view of FiveThirtyEight, which places Harris behind Garcetti in a rubric of actions made by past candidates that signaled their intent to run.
California will soon be in the hands of a new governor, and voters have less than a month to make their choice. In this video, watch Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox explain how they would do things differently once Gov. Jerry Brown exits—and see both candidates talk about whether they would continue the state’s aggressive climate policies, how they would tackle the state housing crisis, their views on public education and whether they would carry out state executions.
You’ll also learn what book they recommend all Californians read, and what each candidate says is the hardest thing he’s ever done.
All in about 8 minutes.
To dive deeper into where both candidates stand on dozens of issues, try the side-by-side comparison tool in our voter guide.
Radio debates, Twitter spats, and the political security that comes with belonging to the right party. Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts.
1. Insiders predict Hunter will win re-election—then have to resign
The race for California’s 50th congressional district is a test of the power of partisanship. Will voters here side with incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., who is facing a 60-count federal indictment for allegedly spending a quarter of a million dollars of campaign cash on vacations, spa treatments, and—yes, as you’ve certainly already heard—cross-country airfare for a rabbit? Or will voters in this Trump-loving southern corner of the state do the unthinkable and actually vote in a Democrat?
According to political insiders around California, it’s best to bet on partisanship.
But these latest results from the California Target Book Insider Track Survey—a poll of consultants, lobbyists, and other operatives in California politics—don’t exactly offer a sunny prediction for Hunter either. The vast majority of respondents believe he’ll go on to win the district that was carried by President Trump over Hillary Clinton by 15 percentage points, only to resign amid mounting legal troubles. Still only 5 percent believe that his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, actually has a shot at winning.
Public polling gives the Democrat better odds, but only slightly. FiveThirtyEight.com’s election forecast put the odds of Campa-Najjar flipping the seat blue between 11 and 13 percentage points.
Even so, some high profile Republicans are riding to Hunter’s rescue. Enter another MAGA-loving Jr., President Trump’s eldest and most Twitter-happy son:
California leftists really outdoing themselves with the crazy these days. CA Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar Defends Donation to Radical ‘Islamist’ Group CAIR | Breitbart https://t.co/8ZxFKpnkcK via @BreitbartNews #ca #capol
On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. shared an article from the conservative website Breitbart reporting that the Campa-Najjar campaign had given money to a local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and received an in-kind donation from the group. CAIR is the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States, but right-wing groups and Republican candidates, including Hunter and Florida gubernatorial hopeful Ron DeSantis, have tried to connect it to international extremist groups. Last month, the Hunter campaign produced a video highlighting his opponents’ grandfather’s involvement in a terrorist organization and labeling him a “security risk”—an ad widely denounced as deceptive and Islamophobic.
Although Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was a member of the Black September terrorist organization, Campa-Najjar has said he never met his grandfather and has repeatedly denounced him. Prior to running for Congress, he worked in the U.S. Department of Labor, a job for which he received a security clearance.
Thus, his response:
Hey @DonaldJTrumpJr, before retweeting @BreitbartNews charged allegations – might want to check with POTUS. I was given security clearance from the FBI in 2013 and met with @realDonaldTrump in 2015. Do you think your father met with a terrorist sympathizer? Doubt it.
2. McCarthy goes gaga for MAGA
Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield has been on President Trump’s good side since early on in the 2016 presidential campaign. But as election day approaches he’s not taking anything for granted with the president’s base among the congressional rank-and-file, whose votes McCarthy will need to succeed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan when he steps down at the end of this term.
As Politico reports, McCarthy is in full-pitch mode, introducing bills to fund the border wall and giving exclusive interviews with Breitbart. President Trump, for one, was successfully wooed by the man he calls “My Kevin,” sending out an “URGENT” fundraising pitch by email with the header: “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Introducing Bill to Fully Fund Border Wall, Making Midterm Immigration Referendum.”
It’s a new look for McCarthy, who has never been an immigration hardliner. But then again, as one White House official said, maybe this is just where the Republican Party is headed.
“I know a lot of people want to make it, ‘Oh, there’s a speakership election coming up and he’s just started tacking hard right’ … but honestly he’s been doing this since Trump went into office,” the former Trump official said. “I guess I look at it more as the obvious, natural progression of Republicans like McCarthy.”
3. The “bravery” of Devin Nunes
Of all of President Trump’s talents, few are as well-honed as his knack for trolling liberals.
That may very well have been his plan when he called into his favorite morning TV show Fox and Friends yesterday and suggested that Visalia Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress and detested by Democrats everywhere, deserves the Medal of Freedom, the highest commendation that the federal government bestows upon a civilian.
“What he’s gone through and his bravery, he should get a very important medal,” the President said.
What Nunes has “gone through” includes the publication of a memo calling into question the validity of the federal investigation into the Trump presidential campaign’s with ties to Russia.
Trump initially suggested that Nunes should be given the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, before correcting himself.
4. Rumble in the 4th
Gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Gavin Newsom weren’t the only candidates to debate on Monday. Just an hour earlier on the same radio station, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock clashed with his Democratic contender Jessica Morse over who should represent the mountain district that stretches north of Lake Tahoe to south of Fresno.
Among the many topics covered:
- The state gas tax: McClintock was clear in his support for Proposition 6, the ballot measure that would repeal a recent increase in the state gas tax and other transportation fees. Morse equivocated, saying she would like to see the federal government provide more transportation funding, but that Prop. 6 was up to the voters.
- Justice Kavanaugh: McClintock said the accusations of sexual assault against Justice Kavanaugh amounted to slander but said that he wasn’t sure if the most high-profile accuser, Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford, had committed perjury in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee. Morse said that Kavanaugh had demonstrated himself unfit to serve on the court by failing to remain “calm, even-minded, fair and nonpartisan” during the hearings. She then used the opportunity to bash McClintock for voting against the Violence Against Women Act.
- Ballot designation: In the run-up to the primary, one of Morse’s Democratic opponents successfully challenged the designation she had hoped to have printed on the ballot next to her name. This accompanied broader allegations that Morse, a 36-year-old former State Department employee, had inflated her resume. In the debate on Monday, McClintock amplified that line of attack: “Jessica, for the last three years, you bragged on a blog that you were leading a ‘vagabond life.’ Wondering why you didn’t put that on your ballot designation.” Morse responded: “We’ll get you a sense of humor after we send you home.”
- Federal tax legislation: McClintock, like Republican congressional candidates across the country, championed the economic benefits of the massive tax bill that Congress passed last year, saying that it was already creating jobs in the district. He also played down concerns that the legislation is projected to add $1.9 trillion to the federal debt over ten years. Morse argued that the bill disproportionately helped the rich and not the “real people” living in the district.
- Guns in schools: We don’t bat an eye when we see armed security guards in banks, McClintock said. What’s the big deal about arming teachers who receive the appropriate training? Morse contended that arming teachers would just increase the risk of violence. “I’ve have lived in a place where everyone is armed,” she said. “It’s called a war zone.”
You can listen to the entire debate here.