One of the biggest stories coming out of last week’s primary election was Republican Bob Peterson’s surprise second-place finish in the race for the 46th District U.S. House seat.
Former Democratic state Sen. Lou Correa finished first by a wide margin, which many politics watchers expected. But they didn’t expect Peterson, an Orange County Sheriff’s Commander and political newcomer, to edge out former state Sen. Joe Dunn and Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, both Democrats.
But on election night, it looked like he had done just that — winning 14.6 percent of the votes, just ahead of Nguyen, who as of election night had 13.7 percent. Dunn finished fourth with 12.8 percent. The top two vote-getters in the primary will face off in the November general election.
But as the Orange County Registrar of Voters’ office continues to count outstanding absentee ballots, Peterson has lost his lead.
When the Registrar’s office was done counting on Monday, Nguyen has jumped ahead of Peterson by 578 votes. Nguyen currently has 14.6 percent of the vote to Peterson’s 13.8 percent.
There are still 2,025 absentee ballots and 13,253 electronic provisional ballots left to count for this race, according to the Registrar of Voters. There’s no way to estimate how many paper ballots for the 46th district might be left to count.
Peterson said Monday that regardless of whether he wins or loses in the primary, he’s glad that he tried.
“I’m okay not winning, I’m just not okay with not trying,” said Peterson, who says he will continue in law enforcement if he doesn’t win. “I think I have made a pretty significant impact…this is not something I’m doing because I want the power or need the money, I want to do what is helpful to the community.”
He says his candidacy has been a “modern-day David and Goliath,” as he could be up against Correa, a fundraising powerhouse who has attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside groups.
“I think my position after the primary has really gotten a lot of attention from Republicans, Democrats and Independents who were thinking, there’s no way I [could make it] raising $15,000 and bringing $15,000 of my own money,” Peterson said.
Nguyen, meanwhile, sent out an email to supporters the day after the primary saying the race “is too close to call.” On Monday, he said that depending on how the remaining votes shake out in the coming days, he may retain an election attorney before the votes are certified.
The young mayor, the only Democrat in the race who has supported presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, began his career in elected office when he was appointed to the Garden Grove Unified School Board in 2011.
He has experience with close elections.
In 2014, Nguyen ran against incumbent Mayor Bruce Broadwater. On election night, Nguyen trailed Broadwater by 357 votes. As votes were counted in the following days, Broadwater’s lead continued to narrow, with Nguyen eventually winning the election by just 15 votes.
He said he is leaving room for the possibility that he can catch up in the Congressional race.
“I’m feeling optimistic and patient — this is an opportunity to practice patience,” said Nguyen. “I don’t want to speculate.”
Asked whether he would run for re-election as mayor, Nguyen said, “I like to leave my options open.”
Registrar Neal Kelley says that although his office is on track to finish counting by the middle of next week, the sheer volume of vote-by-mail ballots received mean it can take 14 to 30 days for many counties across the state to release a final tally of votes.
Ten days before the primary election on June 7, Kelley’s staff was able to begin counting the mail-in and provisional ballots it had already received.
“The voters that dropped ballots off at the polls hit a record again…We [counted] 260,000 or 270,000 ballots before the election,” said Kelley. “You have almost the same number of provisionals and absentees dropped off on election day.”
Before a vote can be counted, ballots must be sorted, signatures verified and other data prepared. The Registrar’s office then has a team of eight to ten staff that then scan in ballots.
Kelley emphasized that, as it is difficult to nail down the exact number of ballots left to count, the figures provided by his office are only estimates.
The Registrar of Voters will continue to post updates of outstanding ballots each day at 5:00 p.m. until all votes are tallied.
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.