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Orange County election officials posted the final, certified June 5 election results Monday evening, after nearly three weeks of post-election ballot counting from the largest midterm primary voter turnout in more than 30 years.
Ballots were cast by 42.9 percent of the county’s 1.5 million registered voters, according to official tallies from the county Registrar of Voters. The previous highest turnout since 1986 was 42.1 percent in 1998, according to registrar data. Turnout data from 1986 and earlier wasn’t immediately available.
The election saw OC voters recalling Democrat state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton – thereby eliminating the Democrats’ Senate supermajority; setting up competitive runoff elections for four Republican-held congressional districts and 4th District county supervisor; and delivering the first runoff elections for district attorney and sheriff in more than a quarter century.
Election officials for Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties – which have portions of congressional districts that cross into Orange County – hadn’t finished counting ballots Monday.
LA County officials said they expect to finalize their counting Friday, and the other two counties said they did not have an estimate for when they would finish counting. State law requires counties to certify the election results by July 5.
With officials reporting all OC ballots counted and certified, the final results show:
- Democrats made it to the November runoffs in the four Republican-held congressional districts that Democrats are targeting this year. But their effort to flip the seats is far from assured.
- In the 39th Congressional District, Republican Young Kim will face Democrat Gil Cisneros in the November runoff for the seat held by Republican Ed Royce of Fullerton. He did not run for re-election.
- In the 45th Congressional District, Democrat Katie Porter will challenge Republican incumbent Mimi Walters of Irvine in the runoff.
- In the 48th Congressional District, Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa will face Democrat Harley Rouda, who narrowly beat fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead for the runoff. Rouda won the runoff slot by less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the vote over Keirstead, or 125 votes of the roughly 174,000 cast in the race.
- In the 49th Congressional District, Republican Diane Harkey will face Democrat Mike Levin in November for the seat held by Darrell Issa (R-Vista). He did not run for re-election.
- Voters recalled Newman from the state Senate, 58 percent to 42 percent, after Republicans, who saw an opportunity to break the Democrats’ state Senate supermajority, criticized him for his vote last year to increase gas taxes. Voters in the competitive 29th Senate District replaced Newman with Republican Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar.
- Irvine voters rejected a city-developer property swap by 63 percent to 37 percent to create the first veterans cemetery in Orange County. The city’s voters also rejected a separate ballot measure to exempt land developments approved by the City Council from being subject to voter approval; and approved a measure increasing the threshold to place tax increase proposals on ballots to a two-thirds majority of the City Council.
- In the widely-watched race for District Attorney, incumbent Tony Rackauckas, who was first elected in 1998, will be in a runoff with county Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who was Rackauckas’ hand-picked successor before the two had a highly-public falling out in 2010. The race is considered very competitive, and will be the first runoff for district attorney since 1990, according to archived results. In each election since, the incumbent either won the election outright in the primary or ran unopposed.
- Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ preferred successor, Republican Undersheriff Don Barnes, will face a runoff against Duke Nguyen, a Los Angeles County District Attorney investigator and Democrat. Barnes had a wide lead over Nguyen in the primary results, with 49.4 percent to Nguyen’s 31.1 percent. It is the first runoff for Orange County sheriff-coroner since 1978.
- In the north county’s competitive 4th District supervisor seat, the runoff will be between Republican Tim Shaw, who is the mayor of La Habra, and Democrat Doug Chaffee, the mayor of Fullerton. Chaffee beat fellow Democrat Joe Kerr for the runoff by 0.4 percent of the vote.
- County Supervisors Michelle Steel and Lisa Bartlett were re-elected to new four-year terms in their strongly-Republican districts. Bartlett was the only supervisor candidate on the ballot for south county’s 5th District.
- Also re-elected outright in the primary were incumbent county Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery, Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen, Assessor Claude Parrish, and Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Freidenrich.
Neal Kelley, the county’s top elections official, said he certified the results at 5 p.m. Monday evening, when the final results were posted online. At their meeting Tuesday morning, county supervisors are scheduled to receive the certification and declare the winners of county-level races.
Recounts can be requested only after the results are certified, and must be requested within five days of the results being certified, which is Saturday evening.
As of 5:30 p.m. Monday evening, Kelley said no recounts had been requested. Kelley said there was one race where a recount had been discussed – for the second-place runoff spot in the 48th Congressional District – but Keirstead, the third-place candidate, later conceded.
In California, recounts can be requested by any registered voter, who then must pay the cost of the recount. The cost is $800 per day for each board that conducts the recount, based on costs paid to the board members and overhead, according to Kelley. People who ask for a recount can cancel partway through.
This primary election, a large share of paper ballots were cast or mailed on Election Day, which Registrar of Voters officials ended up counting over three weeks. Ballots mailed on Election Day were counted, as long as they arrived at the registrar’s office within three days after polls closed, 8 p.m. on the Friday after the election.
According to data from Kelley’s office, about 266,000 ballots – or 42 percent of the total 635,224 valid ballots cast in the election – were left to count after election night.
Republicans and Democrats to Face-Off in Four Congressional Seats
Among the most-watched races this year are four Orange County congressional seats currently held by Republicans, which national Democrats are trying to flip in November in an attempt gain control of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives. Nationwide, Democrats would need to pick up 23 seats to retake the House.
The large field of Democrat primary candidates, when compared to Republicans, created a possibility Democrats would split their party’s votes so much they would be shut-out of the November run-off, leaving two Republicans to run against each other.
No Democratic candidate took the number one spot in the four races, but the party landed a candidate in second place in all four districts – meaning all four districts will see a Republican against a Democrat in November.
39th Congressional District: Kim vs. Cisneros
Kim, a Republican former assemblywoman, easily took the No. 1 spot in the primary election, with 21.3 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Cisneros at 19.4 percent.
There were no Republican candidates running in the 39th until 25-year Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) announced his retirement in January. Within a week of his announcement, at least three Republicans jumped in the race, including Kim of Fullerton, former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff of San Dimas and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson of Fullerton.
Kim used to work for Royce and was able to secure his endorsement, as well as endorsements from other Republicans across the county, including Walters and Rohrabacher. She raised roughly $917,000 for the primary election.
Cisneros, a former U.S. Naval officer who won the lottery in 2010, raised $2.5 million, including $2 million from his own pocket. He was backed by Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), and various labor unions.
Republican voter registration in the district has been slowly dwindling over the years. Republicans make up 35.1 percent of the district’s voters, less than one percentage point over Democrats, according to the latest-available state data, from May. Voters registered as having no political party preference are at 26 percent.
Election handicapper websites Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Report labeled the district a toss up.
45th Congressional District: Walters vs. Porter
Walters, the Republican incumbent, easily took first place with 51.7 percent of the vote while Porter, a Democrat and UC Irvine professor, took 20.3 percent. The rest of the votes went to the four other candidates, all of whom are Democrats.
Walters raised $1.7 million and is endorsed by the California Republican Party and numerous officeholders countywide, including Hutchens, Rackauckas and Irvine Mayor Don Wagner.
Porter raised $1.1 million and is backed by U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Republicans have a nearly eight point lead over Democrats in voter registration, at 38.3 percent to 30.6 percent. No party preference voters make up about 27 percent of the district.
Like the other contested congressional districts in the county, Republicans’ numbers have been slowly dwindling over the years.
Election handicapper websites Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Report consider the district leaning Republican.
48th District: Rohrabacher vs. Rouda
Rohrabacher, who has held the office for nearly 30 years, took first place with 30.3 percent of the vote, followed by Rouda with 17.3 percent of the vote.
Keirstead missed the runoff by coming in 125 votes behind Rouda, or less than 1/10 of 1% of all votes cast in the 48th District race. He conceded to Rouda on Sunday.
Republican former Assemblyman Scott Baugh tried to capitalize on Rohrabacher’s close relationship with Russia and his marijuana advocacy, but fell short at 15.8 percent, behind Keirstead’s 17.2 percent.
Rohrabacher raised $1.5 million as of mid-May, slightly behind Rouda and a little ahead of Keirstead.
Rouda, a businessman and lawyer from a technology firm that specializes in real estate data, led fundraising in the district at nearly $1.8 million, as of two months ago. He’s been endorsed by five U.S. representatives including Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood). He’s also been listed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which also bought him television ads.
Republicans hold the majority of registered voters at 40 percent, a 10 percentage point lead over Democrats. No party preference voters are 25 percent of the district’s registered voters.
Handicapper websites Crystal Ball and the Cook Report list the district as a toss up.
49th Congressional District: Harkey vs. Levin
Harkey took the number one spot with 25.5 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Mike Levin with 17.5 percent of the vote.
Like the 39th District, Republican candidates came in after Issa announced in January he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Harkey, chairwoman of the state Board of Equalization, raised $474,000, including $100,000 in self-funding. She was endorsed by Issa, Rohrabacher, Walters, Hutchens, the Republican parties of Orange and San Diego counties, and county supervisors Steel, Bartlett and Andrew Do.
Levin, an environmental attorney, raised $1.7 million, with over $1 million coming from ActBlue, an online, nonprofit Democratic fundraising organization. He was endorsed by seven members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and the Sierra Club, the environmental advocacy group.
Republicans make up just over 36 percent of registered voters in the district, a 5 percentage-point advantage over Democrats. No party preference voters clock in at nearly 27 percent.
Democrat registration increased only a couple percentage points since 2012, and Republican voter numbers dropped nearly seven points during that time.
The Cook Report and Crystal Ball both classify the district as leaning Democrat.
Voters Removed Josh Newman From Office
In removing Newman from his north OC-based seat and replacing him with Ling Ling Chang, a Republican, voters eliminated the Democrats’ supermajority control of the state Senate.
Fifty eight percent of voters supported removing Newman from his 29th District seat, and 42 percent opposed the recall.
The recall effort was part of a battle over whether Democrats will have a supermajority in the state Legislature, which allows the party’s members to increase taxes, suspend legislative rules, approve emergency legislation that takes effect immediately, and overturn vetos from the governor without any Republican votes.
The Newman recall was seen as a preview of one of the Republicans’ central arguments to California voters in the November general election – that big-government Democrats in Sacramento unnecessarily added hundreds of dollars per year to working families’ expenses by raising gas tax and vehicle license fees.
Republicans criticized Newman for his April 2017 vote with other Democrats to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees to generate over $5.4 billion each year for road and bridge repairs, as well as public transit improvements.
Supporters said it was needed to fix aging infrastructure and address a funding problem from the existing gas tax not increasing with inflation or more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Opponents, including Republicans, have said the gas tax increase harms families and reflects overspending by Democrats in Sacramento.
Voters statewide will be deciding in November on a Republican-backed measure to repeal the gas tax increase, which qualified for the ballot Monday.
District Attorney: Rackauckas vs. Spitzer
Rackauckas, the incumbent DA, had a 3.3 percent lead in final results over Spitzer, who will face Rackauckas in the runoff.
The November election will be a showdown in a long-running feud between Rackauckas and his former protégé Spitzer, whom Rackauckas fired from the DA’s office in 2010.
Rackauckas took office in 1999 and has been re-elected each year by high margins, running twice unopposed.
Democrat and former Brea Mayor Brett Murdock finished third with 22.4 percent vote, and Democrat attorney Lenore Albert-Sheridan received 3.8 percent.
Sheriff: Barnes vs. Nguyen
Barnes, the Republican undersheriff, is headed to a runoff in November against Nguyen, the Los Angeles District Attorney investigator and Democrat.
Barnes received 49.4 percent of the votes while Nguyen received 31.1 percent.
Barnes has been endorsed by Hutchens, the retiring incumbent, and has represented the Sheriff’s Department in most public appearances since Hutchens announced in June 2017 she would not run for re-election. Nguyen has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County.
In order to avoid a run-off, Barnes needed at least 50 percent, plus one vote.
Barnes ended election night with 50.7 percent of votes, but that lead dwindled to less than 50 percent as more votes were counted after the election.
Another candidate, Republican and Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, came in third with 19.5 percent of votes.
This is the first runoff election for Orange County sheriff-coroner since 1978, when then-Sheriff Brad Gates faced opposition from the deputy sheriffs’ union, according to archived results and news reports.
In the 1978 election, the union backed Lauren Rusk, a sheriff’s sergeant who forced a runoff but lost in the general election. Gates was sheriff from 1975 to 1999.
Voters Rejected Veterans Cemetery Land Swap
Irvine voters overwhelmingly rejected a land swap between the city and developer FivePoint Holdings that would have allowed Irvine to trade land near the heart of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station for agricultural land off the 5 and 405 freeways.
Measure B was opposed by 62.6 percent of Irvine voters. It would have moved Orange County’s first veterans cemetery to the strawberry field site near the interchange of the 5 and 405 freeways, on the edge of the former base,
In light of the swap being rejected by voters, a veterans group advocating for the cemetery now is focusing on a possible site on vacant county-owned land in Anaheim near where the 91 freeway and the 241 toll road meet.
County supervisors are scheduled to hold a closed session discussion of the Anaheim property at their regular meeting Tuesday.
4th District Supervisor: Shaw vs. Chaffee
There were four front-runners in the race for the north county seat, and two candidates – Republican Shaw and Democrat Chaffee – made it to the runoff.
The final results had Shaw at 20.6 percent, Chaffee at 20.5 percent, Kerr at 20.1 percent, and Republican Anaheim Councilwoman Lucille Kring at 17.4 percent.
Democrats Rose Espinoza and Cynthia Aguirre came in fifth and sixth place at 11.8 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively.
Spending in the race was dominated by the county sheriff’s deputies’ union, which spent over $150,000 on ads opposing Kerr and criticizing him as an “outsider” who moved to the district from south county to run for the seat.
Kerr responded to the criticism by saying he grew up in north county, lived in north county for over two decades, and moved to the 4th District in January 2017, two months before announcing his run for supervisor.
In opposing Kerr, the deputies union cited, among other reasons, his effort years ago to redirect part of local public safety sales taxes from the Sheriff’s Department to the Orange County Fire Authority, which the deputies union said cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight.
At more than $1.5 million in the bank, the deputies union has the largest campaign fund of any county-level political action committee in Orange County.
Altogether, the four Democrat candidates received 62 percent of the votes in the 4th District primary, with the two Republicans receiving 38 percent.
Correction: State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) was recalled and replaced by Republican Ling Ling Chang. An earlier version of this story said his replacement was Young Kim. VOC regrets the error.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.