Initial results are in for Orange County’s hotly-contested races, reflecting a large portion of the vote with results from 72.7% of all registered voters.
The voting process culminating Tuesday night featured one of the largest early voting turnouts in modern history.
While Republican voters almost always had higher turnout in prior OC elections, particularly with early voting, early ballots this time showed a more even turnout among Democrats and Republicans.
The latest results at 12:30 a.m. early Wednesday showed ballots received by election officials by mail through Monday night as well as a portion of ballots cast in person at vote centers.
The initial results showed that a majority of Orange County voters at this point have voted for Vice President Joe Biden, with 54% of early votes for Biden and 44% for President Donald Trump.
For the majority of the night, Democrats held significant leads defending seats they now hold in Congress and in their efforts to flip several state legislative seats. But that shifted by the 11 p.m. update, as in-person votes were counted and had Republicans pulling ahead in legislative races and two key congressional races becoming much more competitive.
Early in the night, the tallies in the two most competitive congressional races – for the 39th and 48th districts – were leaning heavily towards Democrats. But that changed later in the night, with Republican Michelle Steel pulling slightly ahead of incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda, and Republican Young Kim neck and neck with incumbent Democrat Gil Cisneros.
In the closely-watched local races for state Legislature, Democrats were ahead in efforts to flip two Republican-held seats based in OC. Democrat Josh Newman leading narrowly in the 29th Senate District held by Republican Ling Ling Chang; Democrat Dave Min ahead of Republican incumbent John Moorlach in the 27th Senate District.
It was neck and neck for the 68th Assembly District, with Republican incumbent Steven Choi pulling a wider lead ahead of Democrat Melissa Fox after Fox was leading in earlier results.
In the 72nd Assembly District, Democrat Diedre Nguyen was slightly ahead in the first several rounds of results, but the results flipped in the 10:30 p.m. update with Republican incumbent Janet Nguyen pulling ahead with a sizable lead.
For most of Tuesday night, Republican Andrew Do has maintained a lead over Democrat Sergio Contreras in results for Do’s central county 1st District seat on the influential Orange County Board of Supervisors. If it holds, Republicans would hold on to their 4-to-1 majority on the board.
In Anaheim, Orange County’s biggest city by population, Disney-backed candidates were ahead in all three of the City Council seats up for election, with Avelino Valencia, Steve Faessel and Jose Diaz in the lead. One candidate who opposes resort-area subsidies, incumbent Councilwoman Denise Barnes, was ahead earlier on election night but was trailing Diaz, who was backed by Disney, in the latest results.
In Santa Ana, where voters are picking a new mayor in the first open race for the seat in 26 years, Councilman Vicente Sarmiento held a wide lead with 33%, with Claudia Alvarez trailing in second place with 22% in initial results.
Thai Viet Phan, Jessie Lopez and Johnathan Hernandez held wide leads for City Council seats in initial results. Phan was the only front-runner backed by the city’s biggest election spender, the Santa Ana’s police officers’ union.
In Irvine, Councilwoman Farrah Khan held a wide lead over her council colleague Christina Shea in the showdown for mayor, with Khan receiving 49% to Shea’s 35% in early results.
For City Council, where the top three vote-getters win seats, candidates Tammy Kim, Lauren Johnson-Norris, and Larry Agran held leading spots in early results.
The city’s largest developer, The Irvine Co., was 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 Agran and Kim.
The next results are scheduled to be posted at 9 p.m. to include the first results from Election Day, with further updates scheduled for every half hour after that.
The high early turnout is “very very exciting to see,” said Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Orange County in an interview Tuesday afternoon a few hours before polls closed.
Voice of OC reached out to Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker, who didn’t respond.
“The roles have been reversed. Democrats have been voting early and enthusiastically and consistently,” Briceño said. “We were afraid that the pandemic would hinder our abilities to turn out, but we’ve seen the fact that there’s a lot more enthusiasm around it.”
Mail-in ballots were sent out a month before the election to every active registered voter in Orange County. In the first few weeks of early voting, Democrats were turning out far more than Republicans, but GOP voters caught up in recent weeks.
In an unprecedented election year marked by a global pandemic that’s transformed many aspects of daily life, OC saw a massive wave of early voting with seven out of 10 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.
The vast majority of the initial results Tuesday night are from mail-in ballots received by election officials by Monday night, and are an almost even sample of voters from both major parties. These early mail-in ballots reflected 71.4% of Republican voters and 71.0% of Democrat voters.
Democrats now slightly outnumber Republicans in voter registration in Orange County, with 36.6% of active registered voters, to Republicans’ 34.2% and no party preference voters at 24.3%.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.