Voting is now underway for the 2020 general election, and below is a rundown of the races up for a decision by Orange County voters.
Editor’s Note: Voice of OC is Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom bringing you the best local election news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. Please make sure you subscribe to our free Politics & Election news emails to see our latest election coverage and when we add to this voter guide.
A host of competitive local, state and federal seats are up for grabs, with voters’ choices affecting how all levels of government – from Congress to the state, county, and local cities – will handle priorities like the coronavirus pandemic, homelessness, housing affordability and immigration.
Mail-in ballots have been sent out to all 1.7 million active registered voters in Orange County, with options of mailing back the ballot, dropping it off at any of the 116 ballot drop boxes across the county, or delivering it to any of the 167 vote centers that open starting Oct. 30.
People also have the option of voting in person at a vote center once they open. In-person voting has already begun at one location: the county Registrar of Voters headquarters in Santa Ana, where a vote center opened Monday.
In local races, a handful of voters – sometimes as few as 15 – can end up deciding who wins when the results are close.
Here’s a summary of key races on the ballot that we’ve been able to summarize so far, centering on the largest cities in the county first.
Let us know what cities you as readers would like to see added if possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1st District
One of the hottest local election battles of 2020, this race pits incumbent Republican Andrew Do against Democrat Sergio Contreras, a Westminster councilman, for a seat on the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors have enormous influence over public health policy, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, and decide how to prioritize $7 billion in annual spending between law enforcement, homelessness, mental health, social services and health care.
Do is facing a highly competitive re-election in a seat where Democrats now hold a 17 percentage-point advantage in voter registration.
Do’s biggest financial backer, by far, is the union representing OC sheriff’s deputies, which has spent more than $810,000 promoting him this year – the most any group or individual has spent supporting any candidate for the 1st District seat in years.
Do voted last year for $151 million in raises for sheriff’s deputies, and moved $24 million from departments like the Health Care Agency to pay for sheriff cost overruns.
Contreras is backed largely by trade unions and individual donors, with most of his support coming in contributions of $2,100 or less.
Do has run on a campaign that he’s led the county towards safely reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, while Contreras says Do and the other supervisors have failed in responding to the crisis by undermining public health experts.
Homelessness has been another major campaign issue. Do says he’s been solving homelessness and wants to continue doing so, while Contreras says the county has failed to move fast enough to create affordable housing to get people off the streets.
Do is currently under investigation for money laundering over campaign cash transfers last month involving the county Republican Party, which he and the party’s chairman have declined to comment about.
U.S. House of Representatives, 38th District
In this heavily Democratic district (50 percent to Republicans’ 21 percent), incumbent Democrat Linda Sánchez is facing one challenger, Michael Tolar, a Democrat who hasn’t fundraised. Sanchez was first elected to Congress in 2003 and has been easily reelected since then.
U.S. House of Representatives, 39th District
In a replay of 2018, Democratic Congressman Gil Cisneros is again facing Republican challenger Young Kim in the 39th Congressional District, which spans portions of North Orange County and parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Cisneros, running on an anti-Trump platform, is advocating for gun reform and protecing undocumented immgrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, from deportation.
Kim, a former assemblywoman and aide to former Republican Congressman Ed Royce, has avoided talking about Trump and is focused on homelessness and jumpstarting the pandemic economy. She’s also criticized Trump for calling COVID the “China Virus.”
The two had a close race in 2018, with Kim ahead in the first few days of counting but Cisneros ultimately securing more votes after all ballots were added up.
Party registration is close between Democrats and Republicans in all of OC’s competitive congressional districts except the 39th District, where Democrats have a nearly five point lead over Republicans.
U.S. House of Representatives, 45th District
Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter is looking to defend her seat against Mission Viejo City Councilman Greg Raths, a Republican.
Porter, a first term representative, quickly went viral for her grilling of banking and Wall Street executives during hearings of the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Oversight and Reform. She’s promising to overturn the Trump tax cuts.
Raths, a former U.S. Marine Corps colonel, says he wants to hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic. He also wants to get all the personal protective equipment to be manufactured in the United States. Unlike Kim, Raths has been pro-Trump on his social media accounts.
U.S. House of Representatives, 46th District
In this heavily Democratic district (49 percent to Republicans’ 22 percent), incumbent Democrat Lou Correa is up against Republican retired postal worker James S. Waters, who has reported no fundraising.
U.S. House of Representatives, 47th District
In another Democratic-leaning district (46 percent to Republicans’ 24 percent), incumbent Democrat Alan Lowenthal is facing Republican John Briscoe, a school board member at Ocean View School District. Lowenthal has raised $530,000 this election cycle, with some of the largest contributions coming from labor unions and corporate PACs. Briscoe has raised $36,000, all of which were contributions from himself.
U.S. House of Representatives, 48th District
Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda is looking to defend the seat against Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, a Republican.
Rouda, who beat longtime GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in 2018, is looking to bring back state and local tax deductions. He’s also for Obamacare and advocates various environmental policies.
Steel says she will fight to lower taxes and open the economy. She has faced criticism by some OC residents for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including her questioning of the science behind masks, repeatedly mischaracterizing OC’s coronavirus rates to downplay them and advocating a faster reopening of the economy.
Steel has consistently started the weekly Thursday OC news conferences about the pandemic, but rarely sticks around for press corps questions. She’s against sanctuary city policies and says she wants to strengthen border security.
U.S. House of Representatives, 49th District
Democratic freshman Rep. Mike Levin is looking to defend the seat against San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Bryan Maryott.
Levin, who’s routinely advocated for environmental reform, won by a landslide victory against Republican Diane Harkey in the 2018 election.
Maryott is looking to beef up border security and is against any nationalized healthcare program.
While party registration in most of the competitive Congressional Districts are nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, experts and researchers have repeatedly told Voice of OC it was the No Party Preference voters that helped Democrats sweep the OC Congressional Districts in 2018, coupled with the Trump presidency.
NPP voters make up roughly a quarter of all voters in the districts.
State Senate, 29th District
Republican incumbent Ling Ling Chang will be facing off with Democrat Josh Newman in a rematch of 2018 that could have statewide implications. That year Chang beat Newman in a recall election, eliminating the Democrat supermajority in the state Senate.
Now the two are gearing up for a rematch in a key swing district statewide.
In the March primary, Chang got around 48 percent of the vote, while Newman won about 35 percent of the vote, beating out Democrat and businessman Joseph Cho who won about 17 percent of the vote.
Of the registered voters in the district, about 39 percent of them are Democrats, about 31 percent are Republicans and about 25 percent are no party preference voters, according to state data.
Chang co authored a bill to stop price gouging during the pandemic. Newman is running on a campaign promising to reduce homelessness.
State Senate, 37th District
Republican incumbent John Moorlach is racing against newcomer Dave Min in the 37th State District in one of the county’s largest state senate districts, stretching from Anaheim to Laguna Beach.
Min has never held elected office, citing his experience as a law professor at UC Irvine and senior congressional adviser as his credentials. He’s largely walked the party line, calling for Medicare for All and renewed action on climate change, pointing to COVID-19 and the recent wildfires as a reason that major change needs to be made at the state level.
Moorlach has been a major figure in Orange County since the 1990s, when he was appointed as county treasurer following the county’s bankruptcy. He went on to serve on the county board of supervisors, and came into the state senate in a special election in 2015.
His primary qualifications he shows to voters are his experience in public finance and his work on helping with mental health services at the county and state level for the homeless.
Democrats are also heavily investing in Min’s race, with over $400,000 from the state party along with thousands more from smaller organizations in Orange County and the Central Valley. In total, Min brought in over $1.2 million this year for his race, largely from subsidiaries of the party and unions.
While Moorlach only brought in $850,000 for the year, he still has over $670,000 saved for the final days of the race, with major investments from the state Republicans, insurance companies, and several large tech companies including Google, Facebook and AT&T.
State Assembly, 65th District
In this heavily Democratic district (42 percent Democrat to 29 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is being challenged by Republican Cynthia Thacker, a retired businesswoman.
State Assembly, 68th District
Republican incumbent Steven Choi is facing one of his toughest challenges in years from Irvine City Councilwoman Melissa Fox in a district where voter registration between the two parties is almost dead even.
Choi has taken his party’s stance on a variety of hot issues this election – including maintaining funding for law enforcement – and voted against AB-5, the law that put more requirements on Uber and Lyft to not treat drivers as independent contractors.
Fox has been the polar opposite of Choi on nearly every issue, and has repeatedly asked for discussions at the local level on state initiatives. She was also one of the leading voices behind the city of Irvine recognizing national pride month, and has been one of the loudest liberal voices on the council.
Fox is also ahead of Choi in fundraising, bringing in over $1.2 million this year according to campaign finance disclosures, most of which came from the California Democratic Party’s $740,000 in donations to her. The 68th District has been in Republican control for the past decade.
Choi brought in just under $475,000 for the year, but has more funds in the bank headed into the final days of the election.
State Assembly, 69th District
In this heavily Democratic district (52 percent Democrat to 18 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Tom Daly is challenged by Republican Jon Paul White.
State Assembly, 72nd District
In contention for this seat are former Republican state senator and former Garden Grove council member Janet Nguyen, and current Democratic Garden Grove Councilwoman Deidre Nguyen.
Both are two Vietnamese American women facing off for a seat currently held by Republican Tyler Diep, who sought reelection but was knocked out during the March primary amid tension between himself and the county GOP over his labor union-friendly votes in Sacramento.
The district includes Little Saigon and contains a vast Asian and Vietnamese American population, with 36 percent of voters registered as Republicans and 34 percent registered as Democrats.
In March, Janet Nguyen — the top vote getter in the primary race — pulled nearly 34 percent of the vote while Deidre Nguyen pulled 25 percent.
State Assembly, 73rd District
The race for this seat also comes after its incumbent, Republican Bill Brough, was knocked out in the March primary in the wake of sexual harassment allegations leveled at him last year by two women, which he’s denied, as well as claims he misused campaign funds.
Now the race this November is between two challengers: Republican Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies, and Democratic LGBTQ+ advocate and political activist Scott Rhinehart.
Republicans hold a wide advantage in voter registration, with nearly 41 percent of registered voters in the district compared to Democrats’ 31 percent.
In the primary, Davies led with 27 percent of the vote. Rhinehart got 23 percent.
State Assembly, 74th District
Democrat incumbent Cottie Petrie-Norris will square off against Newport Beach City Councilmember Diane Dixon for the district’s assembly seat, which was among the most competitive Assembly seats statewide in 2018.
In March, Petrie-Norris got the majority of the votes during the primary race with 52 percent of the vote while Dixon won 25 percent of the vote knocking out Republican Kelly Ernby, who works for the OC District Attorney’s office, from the running. Ernby had about 22 percent of the vote.
Of the registered voters in the district, about 35 percent are registered Democrats and about 35 percent are registered Republicans. About 25 percent of voters in this district have registered as no party preference voters, according to county data.
Anaheim City Council District 1
This race pits Councilwoman Denise Barnes against two challengers, Jose Diaz and Ryan Balius.
Barnes announced late in the election season that she’s going to run for re-election in West Anaheim’s District 1. She fought against the Angel Stadium land sale, which saw the stadium and the roughly 151 acres it sits on sell for $150 million.
Diaz, a manager at a local water district, has been endorsed by Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilman Trevor O’Neil. Some of his top issues are focusing on bringing businesses to Beach Boulevard and increasing public safety.
Balius is a current parks and recreation commissioner. According to his campaign website, he wants to revitalize the Beach Boulevard area and address homelessness.
Anaheim City Council District 4
Councilwoman Lucille Kring is termed out in District 4, which encompasses the Disneyland-resort area.
Annemarie Randle-Trejo, president of the Anaheim Union High School Board of Trustees, is among the three candidates running for the seat. According to her campaign site, she’s focused on restructuring police funding and banning short term rental homes Sidhu reinstated last year.
Avelino Valencia, who works for Assemblyman Tom Daly’s office and is a city commissioner, is running on a pro-business platform, has been endorsed by a host of local elected officials and has out-fundraised the other candidates in District 4. The advocacy group for Disneyland and surrounding businesses, Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR), has spent over $100,000 on his campaign.
Disney has financed nearly all of SOAR’s activities, according to finance records. Last year, Disney gave $1.5 million to SOAR.
Jeanine Robbins, an activist who was a regular at City Council meetings before the pandemic, is looking to ban short term rentals again and ease public subsidies given to resort interests. She’s also been a critic of the Angel Stadium land sale, and is part of the resident lawsuit against the city looking to overturn the sale.
Anaheim City Council District 5
Councilman Steve Faessel is looking to hold onto his seat and has raised far more money — nearly $60,000 this year — than his opponents. SOAR has also spent nearly $200,000 supporting his election. Faessel recently voted to sell Angel Stadium and repeatedly declined calls from Barnes to have a public Council discussion about the specifics of the sale before the final votes.
Kenneth Batiste is a community activist and is part of a resident advocacy group, The People’s Homeless Task Force, that has criticized county supervisors over their handling of homelessness and public records destruction. A longtime critic of public subsidies and the stadium sale, he’s also involved in the stadium lawsuit against the city.
Sabrina Quezada, a graduate student at USC, is also running. She’s focused on a universal basic income, free citywide WiFi and affordable housing. She’s raised less than $4,000 this year.
Santa Ana Mayor
One of Santa Ana’s most pivotal elections in decades is the mayoral race, which comes roughly 26 years after current Mayor Miguel Pulido first took the seat and has stayed in it ever since.
But Pulido is termed out this year, and seeking to take his spot are six candidates:
- Vicente Sarmiento, a Democratic councilman of roughly 13 years and lawyer who’s gotten support from many in Santa Ana’s young, progressive activist circles. Most recently, he has opposed revisions to affordable housing policies making it easier for for-profit development to spring up.
- Cecilia Iglesias, a Republican who has recently advocated for charter schools and was unseated last year from the council in a recall effort funded mainly by the city police officers’ union. The recall came after she voted against $25 million in pay raises for officers.
- Jose Solorio is a Democratic former state assemblyman who currently does work for the Moulton Niguel water district and councilman who served between 2002 and 2006 and was reelected in 2016 for his current term. He is backed by the city police officers’ union, which has spent at least $5,000 on mailers supporting Solorio this election.
- Claudia Alvarez, a former councilwoman and current Orange County prosecutor who’s vocal on public safety and lists endorsements like current Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza (who replaced Iglesias) and former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
- George Collins, a business owner who’s vocal about modernizing police department technology and economic development to make Santa Ana a more tourist-friendly area.
- Mark Lopez, a business owner, who has no personal candidate statement and no website. He was vocal during a forum last month about making the elected positions in Santa Ana full-time posts.
Santa Ana City Council Ward 1
Vying for this seat — currently held by mayoral candidate Vicente Sarmiento — are Thomas Gordon, a school facilities manager; Tony Adame, businessman and founder of grooming product company Suavecito; Thai Viet Phan, a planning commissioner and attorney; and Cynthia Contreras, who works for the Orange County Probation Dept.
A top issue in this district is open space — namely around the looming sale of the 100-acre Willowick Golf Course by the city of Garden Grove, which legally owns the property, which sits within Santa Ana.
At a forum last month, Gordon said there’s a need to keep the golf course as open space; Contreras said she was interested in seeing it become a sports park; Adame indicated he’d like to see affordable housing there; and Phan argued for a mix of “boutique” businesses, open space, and housing at the property.
Gordon has been vocal about his opposition to needle exchange programs and the construction of more homeless shelters in Santa Ana.
Contreras has been vocal about community policing and the need to curb street racing in the city.
Adame has said his priority is to revitalize the city’s parks and recreation services, specifically as they pertain to youth, and talked about what he saw as a need for special attention to recreation centers and WiFi access.
Among Phan’s main issues are economic development on the city’s west-end and getting mixes of residential and commercial development in the area, as well as outreach to the area’s Vietnamese American community.
Santa Ana City Council Ward 3
Hoping to win this seat — currently held by mayoral candidate Jose Solorio — are Jessie Lopez, a diversity development coordinator; Mark McLoughlin, a planning commissioner; Danny Vega, an electrical engineer; Jeffrey Katz, a business owner in the city; and Jannelle Welker, a policy advisor for Democratic OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee.
Lopez, who has the support of many young progressives in the city, has been vocal about community investment and increasing street parking availability for residents.
Vega has been vocal about ramping up public safety — namely, cracking down on homeless people — in the ward.
Katz is pushing for economic redevelopment in the city, specifically connecting north Santa Ana with downtown.
Welker, who comes from labor union experience, and McLoughlin, who has advocated for business and commerce in the city, have both emphasized the need to revitalize and support the city’s workforce in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
McLoughlin is backed by the city police officers’ union, which has spent at least $7,000 on mailers supporting him this election.
Santa Ana City Council Ward 5
In contention for this seat — currently held by Juan Villegas — are community health worker Johnathan Hernandez; property management coordinator Laura Perez; businessman Vic Mendez; and Villegas himself, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department special officer who’s up for reelection.
Perez, during a forum last month, said one of her priorities is addressing the inequities and gaps facing the ward, such as a lack of open spaces and affordable housing — something she said has been made apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hernandez was most vocal about introducing a free, citywide WiFi program to increase access to education for young children in town, especially as the pandemic has brought about a new era of distance learning online.
Villegas has said homelessness and public safety are among his top priorities, pointing to his role on the council in creating the Family Justice Center, which provides a “one stop shop” of resources for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking and elder abuse. He joined fellow Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias last year in being the no votes against a $25 million raise for city police officers.
For Mendez, a top issue is traffic safety: “I’ve been almost killed three times in downtown Santa Ana,” he said during last month’s candidate forum, contending “for too long City Hall has played a deaf ear to our concerns” when it comes to traffic management and high fatality vehicle accidents.
The Irvine mayoral race is set to be a showdown between incumbent mayor Christina Shea and challenger Councilwoman Farrah Khan.
Shea, a veteran of Irvine politics since the 1990s, has come under heavy fire this past year for her criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, and blocking constituents on social media. One of the longest-seated Republicans in Orange County, she’s been a strong supporter of the Irvine Police Department and fiscal conservatism.
Khan has been a major proponent of environmental protection and one of Shea’s leading critics on the Irvine City Council, speaking at a press conference called to criticize Shea’s response to the defund the police movement.
Shea has lagged heavily behind Khan in fundraising this year, with slightly under $7,000 saved for the final days of the election to Khan’s $71,000.
If Khan loses, she will remain on the council for another two years in the seat she won in 2018.
Irvine City Council
The local election in Irvine is a packed field this election cycle, with six candidates endorsed by major parties running for two four year seats and a potential two-year seat that could open up if Farrah Khan wins her race for mayor.
Former mayor Larry Agran and city commissioners Tammy Kim and Lauren-Johnson Norris are running under the banner of the Democratic Party. Kim and Norris both worked under council members Khan and Melissa Fox, respectively, and are vying to take over their seats in November.
Across the aisle, Republicans have backed businessman John Park, 2018’s council runner-up Carrie O’Malley and incumbent councilman Mike Carroll, who was appointed to the council last year and is running for the first time.
Carroll has recently come under fire for his use of taxpayer money to send out $70,000 in mailers advertising city events to his constituents without informing the council or city manager’s office, with some of his critics calling it an attempt to get around campaign finance regulations.
In addition to the parties’ endorsements, another eight candidates have thrown their hat in the ring, making for a packed field where few have been able to get their campaign messages out over all the noise.
The election could see the council move out of its 3-2 Republican majority, potentially shifting the council to the left or right with potential room for three new members. Councilman Anthony Kuo is the only council member not running for office this election.
Garden Grove Mayor
Challenging incumbent Mayor Steve Jones, a real estate businessman, in Garden Grove this year are city commissioner and retired businessman Donald Taylor and fellow Councilman Phat Bui.
Another candidate, Little Saigon political observer Duy Nguyen, tried to withdraw his candidacy but will still appear on the official ballot, according to local news site Orange County Tribune.
Jones is largely supported by local businesses and real estate groups, while Bui is a conservative figure in Little Saigon politics — a longtime former Tet Parade organizer who’s known to clash with opposing factions of Vietnamese American politicians in the area and has most recently butted heads with fellow Councilwoman Kim Nguyen during meetings this year.
Among the priorities listed on Taylor’s campaign website are addressing crime and increasing public safety, as well as addressing the city’s economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garden Grove City Council District 2
Incumbent Councilman John O’Neill is challenged this year by Julie Diep, an autism awareness advocate.
O’Neill, an electrician, has raised more than $7,200 so far, much of that coming from the police and firefighter unions.
Diep, who founded the OC Autism advocacy group, raised more than $8,700, much of that coming from individual donors in the health and caregiving fields, and loaned herself $5,000.
Garden Grove City Council District 5
Incumbent Councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein, a Republican, is challenged this year by Robert Tucker, a retired union representative.
Tucker fundraised more than $800, mostly from individual people, and loaned himself $8,000. By comparison, Klopftenstein has raised roughly $17,000 — much of it coming from local businesses.
Garden Grove City Council District 6
Challenging incumbent Councilwoman Kim Nguyen, the city’s first elected Latina council member, is Huan Nguyen, whose ballot designation lists him as an electrical engineer. Voice of OC was unable to find a candidate website with his issues and priorities.
He also hasn’t reported any fundraising.
Kim Nguyen this election cycle has so far reported more than $36,000 in fundraising, much of it coming from progressive groups, individual donors and local Democratic officials, and building and trade unions.
Orange County Water District and Municipal Water District of Orange County
Seven candidates are running for election to the Orange County Water District board and 14 are running for the Orange County’s Municipal Water District’s board.
Candidates Tri Ta, Cathy Green, Megan Yoo Schneider, Jeff Thomas, Allan Mansoor and Karl Seckel have all raised money or took out loans for their campaigns.
The Poseidon Water Co., which is seeking approval of a controversial desalination plant, has spent over $140,000 in total on mailers supporting candidates Tyler Diep, Stacy Taylor, Debbie Neev and Cathy Green, according to filings with the Registrar of Voters.
City Ballot Measures
City of Orange Measure AA – The Trails of Santiago Creek Open Space and Residential Project
Voters in Orange will decide whether they want 128 low-density homes on an old quarry site along Santiago Canyon Road in the city’s east end.
The project is opposed by many residents who say the development would worsen traffic congestion and raise the risk of back-ups in the event of a wildfire evacuation.
Supporters say the project will result in more open space than developed space and that the developer has dedicated millions of dollars to city coffers by committing to additional traffic lanes in nearby streets, among other mitigation measures.
The Yes campaign is funded entirely by $700,000 from the developer, Milan Capital Management.
The No campaign is funded by about $15,000 in individual contributions from dozens of Orange residents, to a committee called Orange Citizens to Keep Orange Safe.
City of Costa Mesa Measure Q – Retail Cannabis Tax and Regulation Measure
If approved, the measure would legalize retail cannabis shops in Costa Mesa and the city would be able to tax, regulate and profit off of weed sales. No money has been reported raised for either the support or opposition, according to the City Clerk’s office.
The city would then be able to tax, regulate and profit off of legal retail cannabis shops. City Staff estimate that doing so could bring in between $1.4 million to $3.1 million at a time when the pandemic has cost Costa Mesa millions in sales tax revenue. Cannabis sales would be taxed between 4 percent and 7 percent.
A majority of council has spoken in support of the measure, saying it will not only diversify the city’s revenue stream but will bring an end to the numerous unlicensed pot shops in the city that have been selling cannabis products untaxed and unregulated.
Two council members, Sandra Genis and Allan Mansoor, oppose the measure, with Mansoor saying there’s no assurance the measure would bring a stop to unlicensed marijuana businesses.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].