Second-place finisher still undecided in raft of races


Days after Tuesday’s primary election, four congressional and 11 Assembly races -- as well as Proposition 29, a proposed cigarette tax -- still are undecided.

In most of the candidate contests, it’s not yet clear who finished second -- a crucial position in the state’s new “top-two” elections system.

The 15 unsettled races, one of which hung by two votes Friday, represent a significant jump from the typical three or four in past elections, according to Allan Hoffenblum, who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book of state contests. They’re a product of the new primary system and freshly drawn voting districts.


“Now we’ve got a whole smorgasbord of interesting contests,” Hoffenblum said.

Under the old primary system, the top finisher in each party with candidates on the ballot advanced to the fall election. Now, only those who place first and second, regardless of party, can compete in November.

Tuesday’s primary produced several fall contests with two members of the same party, including an expensive, widely watched clash between veteran Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman for a San Fernando Valley congressional district seat.

In every election, uncounted ballots remain. Mail-in voting is increasingly popular, and those ballots are counted later if they arrive after polls open. Provisional ballots must be verified. And some ballots are damaged.

California’s secretary of state said Friday that more than 1 million ballots were still outstanding, but counties have almost a month to finish counting.

In most elections, the gaps separating candidates are large enough that the updated tabulations don’t affect the outcome. But in close contests -- those with a 1- or 2-point margin between the winner and loser -- the additional ballots can upend the results.

Among the undecided is a 13-candidate race in the San Bernardino County mountains and deserts and Inyo and Mono counties. Four candidates are bunched near the top, including Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, who appeared to finish first on election night but by Friday afternoon had slipped into second place, behind Lake Arrowhead home builder and anti-illegal immigration activist Gregg Imus, also a Republican.

Phil Liberatore, a Republican tax consultant based in Whittier, was a close third, trailed narrowly by Jackie Conaway of Barstow, the only Democrat on the ballot in the strongly GOP district. Just 233 votes separated Cook and Liberatore on Friday in this 8th Congressional District.

The outcomes also are uncertain in several Los Angeles-area Assembly contests. Among the most hard-fought was a six-way dust-up for the San Fernando Valley’s newly drawn, strongly Democratic 46th Assembly District. L.A. City Council aide Adrin Nazarian came in first on election night, with 27.5% of the vote, and charter schools executive Brian Johnson appeared to run second.

Teacher Jay Stern was third, and attorney Andrew Lachman was close behind, in fourth place.

With Friday’s update, however, Stern, the only Republican, was in second place, ahead of Johnson -- but by only two votes.

County officials, who will update the tally again Tuesday, could not say on Friday how many ballots remained uncounted in individual contests; countywide, the number was 117,044.

On the Westside, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) was clinging to her first-place finish in the 50th Assembly District, 135 votes ahead of second-place Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, a Democrat. Bloom was 710 votes ahead of Republican attorney Brad Torgen and 731 ahead of Democratic activist Torie Osborn.

Osborn on Friday appealed to her supporters to hold off on transferring their loyalties to another contender in anticipation of the fall election. “It ain’t over till it’s over,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Ian Calderon, son of state Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), was also in a squeaker for second place in the 57th Assembly District, in eastern Los Angeles County.

He finished 231 votes ahead of former Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez for the second spot on election night, and by Friday was 250 votes ahead. Republican Noel James was running first, with 43.6% of the vote, 5,077 ahead of Calderon in the solidly Democratic district.

Proposition 29, the proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $1 a pack to fund cancer research, was losing by just over 45,000 votes Friday afternoon, a gap that had narrowed from 63,000 on election night.

It is not unusual for tallies to fluctuate before the count is final.


Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.