As the nation is aware, a special election was held Tuesday in California to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned after an ethics scandal in October 2019. In the last month both President Trump and Barack Obama have relentlessly pushed for their party’s candidate on social media, as have heavyweights from both sides of the aisle.
As of 11:00 p.m. Pacific, it looks like Republican Mike Garcia is going to fill that term, flipping the seat from blue to red – the first such flip in more than 20 years. In fact, Garcia holds a 12-point lead over Democrat Christy Smith.
Given California Democrats’ propensity for miraculously pulling out a victory despite being severely behind on election night, Garcia was cautiously optimistic on a call with supporters and put out this statement:
While the night is early and there are still votes to be counted, we are confident our message of low taxes and not taking Sacramento dysfunction to Washington has resonated with the voters of California.
This district has been without leadership for far too long, and the people here need a strong independent voice fighting for them especially during these challenging times.
I’d like to thank everyone in the 25th Congressional District for their support, and I want them to know that when victory is finally declared, I plan to be a voice for those who voted for me and those who did not.
Smith sent a statement to some news outlets, declaring “the outcome of this race remains too early to call.”
She reiterated her talking points about fighting for middle-class families and reminded them that she’d be in Sacramento continuing to “fight for vital resources for California families” and that she “look[s] forward to seeing a thorough counting of the remaining ballots.”
Similarly, the LA County Democrat Party chair tweeted that “This fight in CA25 was never going to be over tonight.”
— Bridget Bowman (@bridgetbhc) May 13, 2020
There has been a lot of controversy about vote centers in what was supposed to be an all-mail election. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order March 20 declaring it so:
“Notwithstanding Elections Code sections 1500 and 4000–4007 (including, but not limited to, the conditions otherwise imposed on all-mail ballot elections in Election Code section 4000 and 4001.5), and any other applicable provision of state law, the May 12, 2020, Special General Election to be held within the 25th Congressional District of the State…shall…be held as an all-mail ballot election and conducted according to those provisions of the Elections Code that govern all-mail ballot elections….
“The respective county elections officials responsible for conducting each respective election shall transmit vote-by-mail ballots to all voters eligible to vote in each respective election….
“Notwithstanding the other provisions of this Order, elections officials are also authorized, and encouraged, to make in-person voting opportunities available on or before Election Day for each of these elections in a manner consistent with public health and safety, to maximize voter accessibility….
About a quarter of the district is located in Ventura County, with the rest located in northern Los Angeles County, so there are two election officials involved. Los Angeles County generally has more liberal early voting opportunities than Ventura County does. Ventura County’s only early in-person voting opportunities are by mail; Los Angeles County offers both early voting by mail and 10 days of in-person voting at any vote center in the county during regular elections.
For the special election, Ventura County offered two locations for people to vote in-person, on the Saturday before the election and on election day, specifying that those locations were to be used for people who needed to take advantage of the same-day voter registration the state now offers or had some type of problem with their ballot. Los Angeles County, however, still offered 10 days of early voting at 7 sites throughout their portion of the district.
In addition, Ventura County offered a secure official ballot collection box at one location, and Los Angeles County offered a secure official ballot collection box in 22 (yes, 22) locations.
There was some controversy in the days leading up to the election about a new in-person voting location being added in Lancaster, in the far northeastern portion of the large district. The impact of that location remains to be seen, but the Democrats’ use of “racism” and “Republicans want to suppress minority votes” as retort to any criticism is weak and unwarranted. The fact is, Democrats knew about the number and location of the in-person voting locations for more than a month but never requested the additional site. Is it because they thought they’d still be able to harvest ballots and weren’t worried about it? Did they think they’d be able to bus their voters to the three other sites in the Antelope Valley? Who knows. But obviously they weren’t very concerned about it. Except for people who had issues with not receiving a ballot, necessitating the use of a provisional ballot, in-person voting sites weren’t necessary during this election. Postage-paid envelopes were provided with the ballots; all a voter had to do was saunter to their mailbox and drop it in (setting aside concerns with mail fraud for the sake of argument).
If Garcia’s lead holds as in-person ballots and the ballots that were mailed Tuesday are counted, it’s definitely a huge win for President Trump and for the Republican party, but it’s not a reason to embrace all-mail elections. If there wasn’t a pandemic and stay-at-home orders, Democrats would have been practicing ballot harvesting on a large scale – and they will be in November. But at least in November Garcia will have had the advantage of running as an incumbent, and Christy Smith will have had the disadvantage of being in Sacramento – and casting possibly very unpopular votes – in the interim.
(Disclaimer: The author is personally and professionally acquainted with both Smith and Garcia. The author has no professional involvement in the CA25 election in 2020.)