Republican Don Wagner, the mayor of Irvine, widened his vote lead Wednesday over Democrat Loretta Sanchez in day two of election results for a county supervisor seat.
Wagner’s lead now exceeds all of the known ballots remaining to be counted. An unknown number of mail-in ballots have not yet been received by election officials.
The closely-watched special election for 3rd District, the seat formerly held by District Attorney Todd Spitzer, will influence the power and policy dynamics on the powerful county Board of Supervisors.
Board members oversee the sprawling $6 billion-per-year county government in charge of law enforcement budgets and contracts, homeless services, mental health programs, child protective services, county regional parks, as well as where the county’s first veterans cemetery might be, among many other duties.
The updated election results, released at 5 p.m. Wednesday, showed Wagner growing his lead over Sanchez, from a 2,980-vote margin at the end of election night to 3,418 votes after Wednesday’s counting.
Election officials estimate 2,698 ballots are left to count, plus ballots that were placed in the mail earlier this week but haven’t yet arrived at the Registrar of Voters. So far, 69,239 ballots have been counted and reported.
Republicans have safely won all five supervisor seats for more than a decade, though elections for the powerful Board of Supervisors are getting more competitive. The possibility of a tilt in the board majority after next year’s general election energized both major parties to try to win seats.
If Wagner’s lead holds and he wins, it significantly increases Republicans’ chances of maintaining a board majority through at least the 2024 election, based on the seats considered competitive.
Democrat strategists saw winning the 3rd District seat and Andrew Do’s 1st District supervisor seat next year as the pathway to getting a majority on the Board of Supervisors. But their hopes for electing a Democrat to the 3rd District were dashed with Tuesday’s election results, while the 1st District seat is still considered competitive, according to people close to the Democratic Party.
Wagner received major campaign support from Great Park developer Five Point, which gave to the Friends of the Great Park PAC, which in turn gave to the Engage OC committee that spent directly on ads supporting Wagner.
Sanchez, a former Congresswoman, received major financial backing from the largest union for county workers, the Orange County Employees Association, through their independent expenditure committee.
She was the only Democrat in a crowded field of seven candidates.
The winner of Tuesday’s special election will finish out the remainder of Spitzer’s term and will face re-election again next March, when Spitzer would have been up for re-election.
Additional votes could arrive through Friday on ballots placed in the mail on Election Day. Additional result updates are scheduled each day this week.
About half of the ballots left to count after election night were mail-in ballots turned in at polling places. That practice has been aided in recent elections through campaigns going door-to-door to collect mail-in ballots from voters, known as “ballot harvesting.”
Republicans held all five OC supervisor seats for a dozen years until this January, when Democrat Doug Chaffee was sworn in after winning the November race for the north OC seat formerly held by Republican Shawn Nelson.
Democrats are trying gain a three-person majority on the board in early 2021 by flipping another Republican supervisor’s seat next year – that of Supervisor Andrew Do, who won election in 2016 by a 0.4 percent margin.
Among the five supervisor districts, Do’s central county 1st District has the strongest Democrat advantage in voter registration, with 41.7 percent of voters registered as Democrats and 24.4 percent registered as Republicans, according to the latest data from county election officials.
The 3rd District runs from Irvine up through Orange, Tustin, Anaheim Hills, and Villa Park to Yorba Linda. The district also includes the county’s inland canyon communities that fall outside of cities. Republicans have a 3.4-point advantage in voter registration in the district, with 34.7 percent of registered voters to Democrats’ 31.3 percent.
Wagner pointed during the campaign to his work as Irvine’s mayor and state Assembly representative, including Irvine’s status as having the lowest crime rate of large OC cities and development of the Orange County Great Park.
Sanchez, who represented central Orange County for 20 years in the neighboring 46th Congressional District, focused her campaign on her track record of bringing federal and state funding to the county.
Kris Murray, who came in a distant third place as of Wednesday with 7.5 percent of the vote, served as an Anaheim councilwoman from 2010 to 2018. She focused her campaign on the opening of homeless shelters in Anaheim during her tenure, as well as the creation of the ARTIC transportation center.
Homelessness and cost of housing rank among the top voter concerns countywide, as residents also express concerns about adding homeless shelters or housing near their neighborhoods. County supervisors have been facing pressure from federal civil rights lawsuits to address the county’s homeless shelter shortage and add more shelter beds, as well as using existing state and federal dollars to provide physical and mental health services to homeless people.
Other issues facing county government are sharply escalating law enforcement spending, a fragmented and troubled mental health system, and Sacramento short-changing Orange County’s property tax revenue to the tune of $200 million or more per year.
Under a new state law that took effect last year, mail-in ballots can be mailed on Election Day and still be counted, as long as they’re received by the registrar by 8 p.m. Friday.
Additional updates are scheduled to be released at 5 p.m. each day.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.