Welcome to a special California primary edition of Essential Politics. We're tracking state politics and happenings in government on our regular Essential Politics news feed.
- Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported on Friday afternoon that some 2.4 million votes remain uncounted from the statewide primary.
- A state lawmaker wants to open up California's presidential primaries to all voters.
- After four years, voters and candidates are still getting used to the state's top-two primary system.
- Kamala Harris has nabbed first place and Loretta Sanchez second place in California's U.S. Senate primary, according to AP. The two Democrats will face off in a November runoff.
For the politically curious, it's the best guessing game around: What's in the uncounted ballots from election day, and how many of them will change closely watched races across the state?
On Friday afternoon, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that there were 2,423,607 uncounted ballots statewide. About two-thirds of those are vote-by-mail ballots, with three Southern California counties leading the way: Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange.
Reports from a number of the state's 58 counties haven't changed for a few days, so expect the figures to shift pretty noticeably by early next week.
And one other part of the process: This is the first year in which ballots that arrive up to three days late -- Friday would be the deadline -- can be counted. So the number of ballots on hand could also change.
More than 2.5 million ballots were left uncounted on election day across California, a process that could take several days or longer and leave close races in limbo.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla posted a report late Thursday on unprocessed ballots. Most of that total -- about 1.8 million -- were mailed to voters but returned only on Tuesday.
Six million ballots have already been counted from the statewide primary. The uncounted tally would push total voter turnout to about 8.5 million, or around 47% of all registered voters.
Los Angeles County had more unprocessed ballots than anywhere, about 616,000. San Diego County reported 285,000 uncounted ballots.
A portion of the unprocessed total are provisional ballots -- designated for voters whose registration status can't be immediately verified on election day. If a provisional ballot is later found to have been cast mistakenly, it may not be counted.
For voters who spent decades – even lifetimes – trying to understand the rules for elections in California, the last four years of a new system have been a jarring jumble of candidates and choices.
The seismic shock responsible: an overhaul of the rules for congressional and legislative primaries. That change, promised as a way to reform state politics, tore down election rules that had been built by political parties to give a leg up to their preferred candidates.
What’s left is a system that’s far from settled, for either voters or candidates.
“It has no doubt upped the uncertainty factor,” said Dave Gilliard, a Republican political consultant who managed several legislative races across California on Tuesday’s ballot.
As many as two dozen races for the Legislature or Congress will pit same-party candidates against each other on Nov. 8, according to early returns from Tuesday. In most of those contests, it was outside money and the number of candidates on the primary ballot -- not political strategy -- that shaped the outcome.
With voters registered as no party preference locked out of voting in this week’s closed Republican presidential primary, one lawmaker proposed Thursday to open future votes to everyone.
Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) and the Independent Voter Project announced the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would create a single presidential ballot from which all Californians could pick and choose candidates from any party.
However, the proposal would leave it up to the political parties to decide whether to count votes from no-party-preference voters or those of other parties.
“When voters fill out their ballot they expect to be able to vote for their candidate of choice, regardless of political party,” Gray said in a statement. “While voters have that right in every other state and federal election, their choices are artificially limited when voting for president of the United States.”
In addition to being locked out of the Republican presidential primary, no-party-preference voters also had to ask poll workers for ballots containing Democratic presidential candidates and those of other parties. Gray said that is unfair given that elections are paid for by taxpayers.
“If political parties want to write the rules, then they should pay for the primary elections themselves instead of asking taxpayers to foot the bill,” Gray said.
Republican Party officials were not immediately available to comment on the proposal, which would have to be approved by the state’s voters.
All eyes are on the No. 2 spot.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal won the primary with a commanding lead of 33% of the vote in a crowded field of nine candidates to replace retiring Rep. Lois Capps in the 24th Congressional District.
Just 2,357 votes separate Republicans Justin Fareed, a 28-year-old former Capitol Hill staffer who works for his family's sports medical devices company, and state Assemblyman K.H. "Katcho" Achadjian of San Luis Obispo. Fareed is ahead.
There are 27,866 ballots still waiting to be processed in San Luis Obispo County alone, according to officials there. Santa Barbara County is still counting unprocessed ballots and should have an update by Friday morning.
"It's still a tight race," said Nyri Achadjian, the assemblyman's daughter and campaign manager. "There are several thousand votes to be counted and we're looking forward to seeing them come through."
Fareed's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Election day is over, but the wait has just begun for Daniel Parra and Emilio Huerta, two Democrats running for Congress who are currently separated by just 467 votes.
They each hope to advance to the general election and take on Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), who already clinched his November spot, in a district Democrats have been struggling to crack for two election cycles.
Democrats have a 16-percentage-point advantage over Republicans in the Central Valley's 21st Congressional District, but Valadao has steamrolled his last two opponents.
Huerta, an attorney and the son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, was supported by many in the state's Democratic establishment and boasted a 2-1 fundraising advantage over Parra, a Fowler city councilman.
At the party's convention in February, he even managed to successfully block Parra from getting the party's endorsement through some dramatic maneuvers off the floor.
But it is Huerta who is lagging behind Parra with thousands of ballots in the district yet to be counted. It is unclear who will come out ahead.
"I'm a first-time candidate so everything is a surprise to me," Huerta told The Times on Wednesday. "We were hoping, of course, to have better numbers."
Parra said he was happy with his showing so far, especially considering what he was up against. One of the speakers who advocated for blocking Parra from getting the party endorsement was Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of California's Democratic congressional delegation.
"The guy had money and he had the DCCC over working for him," Parra told The Times. "So I'm feeling pretty damn good to have done what I've done. I've had the machine come at me and I'm still here."
Kern County expected to have an estimate of total uncounted ballots by Thursday afternoon. About 40,000 mail-in ballots and 15,000 provisional ballots still need to be tallied in Fresno County, where about a third of the district falls.
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk Dean Logan estimates that the county has more than 500,000 ballots left to tally from Tuesday's primary election. More than 1.4 million ballots have been tallied in the county so far, he said in a news release.
The estimate of uncounted ballots includes 240,063 provisional ballots, 125,280 vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling sites and 204,946 ballots that were postmarked by election day.
The rise of voting by mail among Californians means it can often take weeks to get final election results, especially in close races such as the handful of congressional and legislative races that are still too close to call.
County election officials have until July 5 to submit their final results for presidential delegates to the office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and until July 8 to submit results for all other offices. Padilla then has until July 15 to certify the state's primary election results.
A Republican political consultant on Wednesday said he is working with a super PAC to support Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’s campaign against state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris in November.
The Democrats were the two Senate candidates who finished in the top two in Tuesday’s primary election and will face off in the general election.
Sacramento consultant Dave Gilliard said the pro-Sanchez campaign by the Jobs Opportunity and Freedom PAC will be focused on Republican voters because no GOP candidate will be on the November ballot.
“Representative Sanchez’s experience on national issues, especially those related to national security, veterans and public safety, make her the easy choice in November,” Gilliard said in a statement.
A day after dominating the U.S. Senate primary election, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris hobnobbed with diners at Oakland’s Home of Chicken and Waffles and then told reporters that Tuesday's results showed she was the candidate who can unify all of California.
According to preliminary results, Harris finished with 40.4% of the vote Tuesday, compared with 18.6% for her Democratic rival, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange. Harris bested Sanchez in all but four counties, and the two were neck-and-neck in the congresswoman’s home county.
The two Democrats will face off in the November general election. Harris dismissed speculation that Sanchez may appeal to moderates and Republicans in hopes of building a patchwork of support that could lead to victory in the general election.
“California spoke last night in terms of the primary,” Harris said. “People of every demographic, every geographic location in our state, all came together. It was not North versus South; it was not the coast versus inland. All Californians spoke. And we unified them .… That that’s how were going to go into November.”
Harris promised to debate Sanchez, but declined to say how many times, and sidestepped questions about the differences between them.
"I like getting things done. That's the work I did as attorney general of California," Harris said. "And that's the work on want to do going forward.
Here are the competitive races in which incumbents will square off against the same opponent they faced in 2014:
- Assembly District 36: Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) will again face Steve Fox, a Democrat who won this seat in 2012 and whom Lackey ousted in 2014. This will be the third cycle in which these two rivals meet: In 2012, Fox edged out Lackey in the primary before winning against another Republican in November. Democrats have a voter registration edge in this seat and could make it one of their pickup priorities for the fall.
- Assembly District 39: Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) may be an incumbent, but she hasn't shed much of her outsider status since her surprise win in 2014. Primary results show her nearly 20 points behind former Assemblyman and fellow Democrat Raul Bocanegra, whom Lopez has defeated by less than 700 votes.
- Assembly District 53: In the 2014 primary, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago ran against three other Democrats for this open seat and still walked away with 56% of the vote. This time, he faced only two others and got just 47%. He's now in a rematch against activist Sandra Mendoza, who lost to him by wide margins in the last general election.
- Assembly District 65: In Tuesday's primary, Democratic challenger Sharon Quirk-Silva, who won this seat in 2012 only to lose it in 2014, pulled ahead of Assemblywoman Young Kim (R-Fullerton) in this true swing district. With 100% of precincts reporting, Quirk-Silva was up by more than 3,000 votes.
- Assembly District 66: Al Muratsuchi is another Democratic challenger who's ahead of a Republican incumbent after Tuesday's results. He and Republican Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach) will face off in November in one of the more hotly contested races with an eye toward the Democrats' supermajority.
- Congressional District 10: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) will again face Democrat Michael Eggman, who lost to Denham in 2014. With voter registration virtually tied, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has placed this on its "Red-to-Blue" priority list.
- Congressional District 17: Repeat challenger Ro Khanna appears to be ahead of Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), a stark contrast from the 2014 primary, when Khanna trailed Honda by 20 points. Khanna has been building up momentum toward what is sure to be a lively rematch of the last election.
- Congressional District 31: Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) will again face Iraq war veteran Paul Chabot, who ran against Aguilar for this open seat in 2014. Aguilar beat Chabot by three percentage points in the 2014 general election, and while Democrats maintain a slight edge in voter registration here, it could be a competitive race for the first-term congressman this fall.
Police shootings in San Francisco will face extra scrutiny, the minimum wage in San Diego will go up and medical marijuana shops will stay where they are in San Jose as voters made their preferences overwhelmingly clear in key local ballot measures across California on Tuesday, according to preliminary results from county registrars.
Almost 80% of voters in San Francisco decided to have the city's civilian police review board investigate all officer-involved shootings. More than two-thirds also backed a measure that will increase the amount of new housing reserved for low-income residents to 25% — the nation's highest figure.
Voters in San Diego gave high support for a measure to boost the city's minimum wage more quickly than the state's plan to raise the wage gradually to $15 by 2022.
In San Jose, almost two-thirds of voters shot down a measure that would have expanded where medical marijuana dispensaries could go in the city. Glendale voters took a strong stance against the repeal of a tax on electricity, water and gas rates, with 71% opposed.
Tax hikes did very well, according to Michael Coleman, a fiscal policy advisor to the League of California Cities. Nearly 90% of them passed, including large bond measures for community colleges in Long Beach and Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
California voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved Proposition 50, an anti-corruption ballot measure that allows each house of the Legislature to suspend a member without pay for misconduct.
The state constitutional amendment passed with 75.3% of voters in favor and 24.7% opposed. It was placed on the ballot by the Legislature in response to a series of scandals in 2014 in which senators charged with crimes were suspended but were allowed by the Constitution to continue to be paid.
“Californians want to have every tool to rein in corrupt politicians,” Kathay Feng, who heads the watchdog group California Common Cause, said Wednesday.
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) said he was disappointed in the vote results because he feels the measure is not going to end corruption and may be misused by the majority party against dissenting legislators.
To guard against misuse, Proposition 50 now requires a two-thirds vote of the Assembly or Senate to suspend that house’s member without pay. Previously, suspensions were allowed with majority votes.
The vote outcome was not surprising to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
“Asking voters if they want to take money away from politicians is like asking if they want to give puppies and ice cream to orphans,” Schnur said. “The only surprise with Proposition 50 is that the margin wasn't even larger."
U.S. Rep. Ami Bera came out on top in the 7th Congressional District in Tuesday night’s primary.
The Sacramento Democrat received 53.3% of the vote, according to the Secretary of State’s results. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican, received 46.7%. Mail-in and provisional ballots are still being counted.
In May, Bera’s father, Babual Bera, pleaded guilty to illegally funneling more than a quarter of a million dollars to his son's 2010 and 2012 campaigns.
The congressman has said that neither he nor campaign aides knew of his father’s activities until they were contacted by federal prosecutors. An aide said Ami Bera wrote a check from his political account to the U.S. Treasury on the day of the plea to cover the entire amount identified by prosecutors.
Republicans have pushed Bera to provide more information about what happened, and political observers questioned how the lingering questions might affect voters.
Before Tuesday’s results came in, the second-term congressman said he expected to pull in only 40% of the vote and lose the primary to Scott. He lost the primary in his previous two races, but he won in the general.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the results,” he said by phone. “Historically in the primary, we have fewer younger voters, fewer minority voters.”
From the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan:
The numbers could swing close races, including who will take on incumbent Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano in Norwalk. Currently, Republican Gordon Fisher leads Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernández by fewer than 250 votes for second place.
The Associated Press has called a close race for an open seat to represent Anaheim in the Assembly. Democrat Sean Jay Panahi has finished first and will face Republican Harry Sidhu, who edged out fellow Republican Steven Choi.
Former Democratic state Sen. Lou Correa will take on Republican Bob Peterson in the congressional race to replace U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez, according to the Associated Press.
Peterson edged out Democrats Bao Nguyen and Joe Dunn for second place.
Thousands of ballots across California remain uncounted on the morning after election day, and they could determine the fate of numerous races for Congress and the state Legislature.
The top two finishers in each district advance to November. Here are some of the most interesting outstanding races, per the Secretary of State's Close Contests results page.
U.S. House of Representatives
- Former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, trails Democrat Rita Ramirez by 1,085 votes for the right to face incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Cook in Yucca Valley.
- Two Democrats, Emilio Jesus Huerta and Daniel Parra, are separated by less than 500 votes, with Parra leading to oppose incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao in Hanford.
- Two Republicans, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and Justin Fareed are close in the battle to go up against Democrat Salud Carbajal in an open seat in Santa Barbara. Fareed has an almost 2,400 vote edge over Achadjian.
- Incumbent Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano of Norwalk might face either a Republican or Democrat in November. Fewer than 250 votes separate Republican Gordon Fisher and Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernández.
- A Democrat-on-Democrat race is assured to represent Compton for an open seat currently held by Sen. Isadore Hall, who is running for Congress. Warren Furutani leads Isaac Galvan by about 1,500 votes to go up against top-finisher Steven Bradford.
- It's a tight one in the Modesto-area race to replace Republican Kristin Olsen. Republican Ken Vogel leads, but two Democrats and a Republican are within a couple thousand votes for second place. Currently, Republican Heath Flora holds the edge for second.
- For the open seat to represent Menlo Park, Democrat Marc Berman is in first, with Democrat Vicki Veenker leading Republican Peter Ohtaki by about 1,200 votes for second.
- Visalia Republican incumbent Devon Mathis will face either Democrat Ruben Macareno or Republican Rudy Mendoza in the fall. Macareno leads Mendoza by about 600 votes for second place.
- In Diamond Bar, Democrat Gregg Fritchle is on top and will take on a Republican, either Phillip Chen or Mike Spence. Chen leads Spence by about 600 votes for second place.