Today is Election Day in Orange County – or put another way, the final day of Election Month.
In an unprecedented election year marked by a global pandemic that’s transformed many aspects of daily life, OC is seeing a massive wave of early voting with about two thirds of all voters in OC already casting ballots by the night before the election.
In comparison, only about one in five voters cast early ballots in the March primary election this year.
In both elections, mail-in ballots were sent out to all voters a month before Election Day.
This time, a number of crucial local races will be decided, including competitive contests for county supervisor, Congress, state Legislature, and mayors and city councils across the county. Voters will also be deciding on a slew of city ballot measures ranging from tax increases to home development to legalizing retail marijuana shops.
Voice of OC will be covering the election results tonight, with an array of articles on closely-watched races.
Election officials plan to post the first round of results tonight at 8:05 p.m., showing all ballots they received as of the end of Monday, the night before the election.
One of the hottest local election battles of 2020, the 1st District Orange County supervisor race, pits incumbent Republican Andrew Do against Democrat Sergio Contreras, a Westminster councilman, for a seat on the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors.
County 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.
The outcome will decide whether Republicans keep their 4-to-1 supermajority on the Board of Supervisors, or Democrats pick up a seat, which would craft a 3-to-2 Republican majority. That could change the power dynamics on key issues, with some types of actions require yes votes from four of the five supervisors.
Orange County also is home to several of the most competitive races for state Senate and Assembly being closely watched – and spent heavily on – statewide as Democrats and Republicans battle over seats in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
Of the races being watched closely statewide, about half of them are in Orange County, where demographic and political shifts have turned a Republican stronghold into a much more competitive purple county.
Among them are the 68th Assembly District race between Stephen Choi and Melissa Fox, the 29th Senate District rematch between Ling Ling Chang and Josh Newman, and the 37th Senate District contest between John Moorlach and Dave Min.
Orange County also is once again home to key battlegrounds for control of Congress, with major attention and money being poured into the 39th District race between Gil Cisneros and Young Kim, and the 48th District race between Harley Rouda and Michelle Steel.
No party preference voters are likely to determine if an all Democratic congressional delegation stays or if Republicans can regain lost ground from the 2018 mid term election.
And voters in all of OC’s 34 cities are deciding who will represent them on their city councils, which control how cities prioritize their spending between things like police, fire fighting, parks, and libraries.
The Anaheim City Council races are a battle between Disneyland resort-backed candidates against underfunded, anti-resort subsidy candidates in an election year that could see the current resort-friendly council majority swing the other way.
Disney has dominated campaign spending in the city, pumping $1.5 million into a PAC supporting candidates Jose Diaz, Steve Faessel and Avelino Valencia.
In Santa Ana, six candidates are vying to replace termed-out Mayor Miguel Pulido, while others run for City Council seats that will decide who has majority control of the council.
Santa Ana’s police union is again the dominant spender in the city’s elections this year, contributing at least $186,000 toward ads supporting mayoral candidate Jose Solorio and council candidates Mark McLoughlin and Vic Mendez.
In Irvine, a showdown between incumbent Mayor Christina Shea and challenger Councilwoman Farrah Khan is drawing significant spending and interest, as are the races for City Council seats.
The city’s largest developer, The Irvine Co., is the dominant spender in the city’s election, pumping at least $315,000 dollars into groups supporting Shea, Mike Carroll, and John Park, and opposing Larry Agran and Tammy Kim.
And regional water board races are also drawing intense attention and campaign money, amid upcoming decisions on a controversial proposed desalination plant from Poseidon Water Co. Poseidon has spent over $140,000 on mailers supporting a series of water board candidates.
In a flip of past dynamics where more Republicans tended to vote earlier, this election it’s Democrats who participated more in early voting. As of Monday, Democrats in OC had cast 39.2 percent of the mail-in ballots returned by mail or drop boxes, compared with 34.7 percent by Republicans.
In mid-October, the Orange County Republican Party sought to reassure concerned GOP voters by emphasizing voting by mail is safe and secure in Orange County.
“What we also hear is Republican voters are holding on to their ballots to vote in person because you don’t trust voting by mail,” said Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker in a mass email to Republican voters.
“I want to assure you that voting by mail or by dropping off your ballot in Orange County is safe and secure,” he added.
“The current voting system in Orange County is the exact same system as it was in the March primary where Republicans matched Democrat turnout without a competitive primary. The Orange County Registrar of Voters and Neal Kelly has our full confidence that your ballots will be received and counted.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.