The final results are now in for who won last month’s election in Orange County, after nearly 1 million local residents cast ballots.
The election – which saw 55% of voters turn out – saw a series of key wins for both Democrats and Republicans who will be deciding on billions of dollars in spending
“There’s much more balance in Orange County today than there has been in decades past,” said Mike Moodian, a public policy professor at Chapman University.
“We certainly are a purple county.”
For the first time in nearly 50 years Democrats will have a majority on the powerful county Board of Supervisors – which decides nearly $9 billion in annual spending on local regional services like law enforcement, public health, social services and myriad other priorities like libraries.
The shift comes after Democrat Katrina Foley defeated Republican Pat Bates in a district stretching from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach through coastal South County.
In the coming days, new city council members will be taking office – in some cases drastically changing who has a controlling majority over city government.
In Huntington Beach, the council majority will be completely shifting from majority Democrat to majority Republican after all four GOP-endorsed candidates won.
Some of the county’s biggest cities saw extremely tight races.
In Anaheim, reformist candidate Carlos Leon defeated resort-backed Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae by just 78 votes out of nearly 10,000 that were cast in that district.
In Santa Ana, school teacher Benjamin Vazquez won by just 80 votes, ousting police union-backed Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza.
In Costa Mesa, incumbent Andrea Marr won by just 78 votes over her opponent, financial advisor John Thomas Patton.
Costa Mesa’ Measure K – which would roll back restrictions on housing development – won by just 22 votes.
And in Westminster, Amy Phan West won election to the City Council by just 21 votes.
“Every vote matters,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College.
And in what could be a first in OC history, an openly transgender woman was the top vote-getter in an election.
Former Marine infantry officer Stephanie Wade got the most votes for a Seal Beach City Council seat, which is now set for a runoff because of city rules when no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
Many local Democrats – including Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) – faced particularly tight elections in newly drawn districts that increased Republicans’ voter registration advantage.
It was indicative of how Califorina’s redistricting process kept state and Congressional districts competitive – and even increased Republicans’ advantage in key races – despite state government being controlled by Democrats.
That’s a byproduct of California voters putting the redistricting process in the hands of a citizens’ commission whose members are chosen largely by legislative leaders from both major political parties as well as state auditors.
“It goes to show California has an excellent redistricting system that is not partisan and is not unfair. And that’s good for voters,” said Balma. “With a Legislature drawing those districts, no one would want to piss off their colleagues or make it more difficult for their party to win.”
The election was overseen by Bob Page, the county Registrar of Voters.
“I want to thank the more than 1,600 members of the Orange County community who joined our Registrar of Voters team for this election,” Page said in a statement.
“Together we helped about 1 million voters in the county successfully exercise their right to vote in an accessible, fair, accurate, secure and transparent election.”
Voice of OC asked Page about ballots that were rejected. He provided these figures:
- 14,734 ballots were rejected for the signature not matching their registration. The registrar sent letters to the voters offering an opportunity to verify their ballot, of which 4,760 letters were returned. (32% returned)
- 2,935 ballots were rejected for having no signature, of which 1,487 letters were returned. (51% returned)
- 200 ballots of first-time voters were rejected for not showing ID, of which 33 letters were returned. (17% ultimately counted.)
“In total, 9,943 challenged vote-by-mail ballots were later accepted for counting either as a result of additional staff review or the voter submitting a cure statement with a comparable signature,” Page said.
Given how close the results are, a lot of incumbents are likely looking at competitive races again next time, Balma said.
“I don’t know that some of these [candidates] that won by small margins should get very comfortable,” she said.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.