SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Officials in California are bracing for long lines and urging patience as voters cast ballots on “Super Tuesday” in what could be record turnout for a presidential primary election.
A fraction of the 20.7 million registered voters in the heavily Democratic state has already returned ballots in early voting, which started last month. Officials expect the bulk of ballots to be cast Tuesday.
Enthusiasm is high among Democrats eager to elect a candidate they hope can oust President Donald Trump in the fall, and California moved up its primary from June to March so voters could weigh in earlier.
The state has been blanketed by continuous advertising from billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, who dropped out of the race Saturday after a third-place finish in South Carolina. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden are still running for California’s 415 pledged Democratic party delegates.
But the primary also coincides with a number of changes aimed at expanding voter participation. Those changes may end up confusing voters or contributing to longer lines.
In casting his ballot at an early voting center last month, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said that election day wait times may be longer than normal given the number of people registered to vote. Voters are also weighing in on congressional races, state legislative seats and a statewide school bond.
“I’m expecting we’re going to see an avalanche of ballots on election day, and it’s going to take a while to figure out the results,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.
New this year, Californians will be able to register to vote through 8 p.m. Tuesday at any location where ballots are accepted, which could tie up lines as people fill out paperwork. Results may be delayed because provisional ballots take longer to count.
Also, 15 counties representing more than half the state’s voters have replaced traditional neighborhood polling places with a smaller number of multi-purpose vote centers where people can register, vote and take care of other elections business.
The new centers are designed to make voting more convenient, but may confuse people who are accustomed to visiting their local polling place.
Los Angeles County reported several hiccups when it rolled out its vote centers last month. A handful opened late or not at all because equipment didn’t arrive in time or workers didn’t have correct information to start new touch-screen ballot markers.
Sacramento County will be tripling staff at a voting center at Sacramento State University that saw huge lines in November 2018 as students raced to register at the last minute. Everyone in line by 8 p.m. got to vote, even if that was hours later, spokeswoman Janna Haynes said.
Elections officials have been encouraging people to vote early, in case of problems and to avoid election day mayhem. But voters like to hang on to their ballots, perhaps more so for an election with a wide-open presidential primary.
Voting advocates hope the waits won’t discourage voters.
“Overall, California has suffered from long lines a lot less than other states,” said Jonathan Stein, head of the voting rights program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.
“The long line is unfortunate but ultimately, it’s a product of California trying to do the right thing by voters,” he said.
California Democrats ponder reordered field in 2020 contest
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic voters in California will consider a suddenly reshaped presidential field Tuesday that has largely narrowed to a rivalry between emerging establishment favorite Joe Biden, billionaire Michael Bloomberg and progressive rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
California is one of 14 states that will vote on Super Tuesday. It’s the biggest prize by far, with more than 400 delegates at stake. The vote comes a day after Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg united behind Biden as party moderates look to halt the ascent of democratic socialist Sanders, the leading candidate after contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
President Donald Trump, who lost California by over 4 million votes in 2016, faces only token opposition for his party’s nomination. Meanwhile, a series of contested U.S. House districts are on the ballot that could play into control of Congress in November.
It’s possible the primary could attract about half of the state’s nearly 21 million registered voters. Early voting began in February, and about 22 percent of 16 million mail-in ballots had been returned as of Monday, according to nonpartisan Political Data Inc.
Arguably, no candidate has more at stake in California than the Vermont senator, whose campaign has long seen the nation’s most populous state as a critical early contest and has had droves of volunteers organizing events across the state.
Sanders was on the California presidential ballot four years ago, when he picked up 46 percent of the vote in a losing effort against eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. He’s hoping for a comeback that would be a capstone moment for the state’s progressive wing, and a string of recent polls have shown him with an advantage over his remaining rivals.
But Sanders is also facing unpredictable factors, not least of which is who actually votes. Some of Sanders’ strongest supporters, including young people and Hispanics, tend to be among the least reliable voters. They are trailing other groups in mail-in ballots returned through Monday.
At the same time, moderate Democrats are clearing the field for South Carolina primary winner Biden, fearing that a Sanders ticket could doom the party’s chances in November. Another recent exit from the race: California billionaire Tom Steyer, who stepped out Saturday.
Anyone who already voted for Klobuchar, Buttigieg or Steyer can’t change their vote.
State election rules intended to increase participation make it likely that ballot-counting could continue for weeks in close contests. Another unknown: Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who has spent tens of millions of dollars in advertising, is on the ballot for the first time on Super Tuesday.
Four years ago, many Sanders supporters were dejected after his defeat and suspicious of an election process they believe tilted unfairly to Clinton. But his volunteer corps regrouped, and a candidate once considered on the political fringe has this year accumulated more delegates than any other Democrat so far.
The swift reordering of the Democratic contest could provide an opening for Biden, who has been slipping in state polls. He might have another hidden advantage: California prides itself on being the birthplace of the next great thing, but in politics its voters sometimes look backward and favor the familiar.
For example, in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when much of the nation was lining up with eventual nominee Barack Obama, California delivered a comfortable victory for Clinton, whose husband, Bill Clinton, carried the state in 1992 and 1996.
Biden planned to be back in California Tuesday. Warren, meanwhile, dug in and made her closing California pitch in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood near Los Angeles, where she told the story of Latina janitors who organized and fought for better working conditions three decades ago.
She drew an immediate contrast with Biden, saying nominating a “Washington inside will not meet this moment.” While she didn’t mention Sanders by name, she offered herself as the progressive who can get things done.
Tulsi Gabbard, who has lagged badly in early contests, also remains in the race.
The long-running tension between the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and its center-left establishment has defined the presidential contest again, as it has for years in many races in California. A Sanders victory would signal a continuing shift to the political left in which voters embrace his “revolution” that includes tuition-free college, breaking up big banks and revamping an economy that has produced a yawning divide between the very wealthy and workaday Americans.
The big change from 2016?
Sanders has made inroads with people of color, especially Hispanics, Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin said. In Nevada, support from Latinos, black people and union members, among others, helped him handily win the caucuses.
“We’ve put together a multiracial, diverse coalition that is putting Bernie in a strong position” to win California and a trove of delegates, Tulchin said.
California delegates are partly divvied up in what amounts to 53 separate elections in congressional districts. A candidate must win 15 percent of the vote in a district to qualify for at least one delegate.
Sanders has pushed back against suggestions that his agenda is pulling the party too far from the center.
“I don’t think so, I honestly don’t,” the Vermont senator told California Democrats at a convention last year.
Progressive activist and Sanders supporter Joe Macaluso said the senator’s strong standing in the state was the culmination of years of political organizing. The result: a broad grassroots movement that’s battle-tested from the 2016 campaign.
“This is a group of experienced activists and organizers in California that … money can’t buy,” Macaluso said.
Republicans hope for US House turnaround in California
Los Angeles (AP) — California is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country, but Republicans this year are determined to regain a string of U.S. House seats the party lost to Democrats two years ago. President Donald Trump, who wants the House back under GOP control and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demoted, has said that with hard work Republicans “can pick up seven seats in the state of California.”
Tuesday’s primary election will set the stage for those November battles, which will play out in a state that is home to the so-called Trump resistance and where the president is widely unpopular outside his core GOP base.
Republicans currently hold a mere six of the state’s 53 House seats, with two vacancies. But the party wants to show it can bounce back, even in a state where Democrats control every statewide office, dominate both chambers of the Legislature and hold a 4.3-million edge in voter registrations.
The seven races in districts won by Democrats in 2018:
10th Congressional District
Venture capitalist Josh Harder grabbed this farm belt seat from Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in 2018. This time he’s facing challengers from both parties, including Republicans Ted Howze, a veterinarian, and Bob Elliott, a San Joaquin County supervisor. Democrats hold a registration edge in the district, though the state’s agricultural centers have long been known for Republicans who vote reliably and Democrats who often do not.
21st Congressional District
Trump recently called former Republican Rep. David Valadao “an incredible guy” he wants back in Washington. But to get there, he’ll need to defeat the Democrat who narrowly beat him in 2018, Rep. TJ Cox. The district has a deceptively large Democratic registration edge — Valadao held the seat for several terms before Cox’s 2018 victory. They are among four candidates on the ballot.
25th Congressional District
This swing district north of Los Angeles is vacant after Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned amid a sex scandal and House ethics probe last year. Leading Democrats include Christy Smith, a state legislator backed by the party establishment, and online news personality and progressive Cenk Uygur. The GOP field includes former Rep. Steve Knight, who lost the seat to Hill in 2018, former Navy combat pilot Mike Garcia and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who served a two-week prison sentence for lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign.
39th Congressional District
Voters in the closely divided, diverse district anchored in Orange County could end up seeing a rematch between first-term Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim. Cisneros claimed the seat in 2018, one of four Republican-held districts all or partly in Orange County that Democrats claimed two years ago, a stunning realignment in a county once known as a national GOP stronghold.
45th Congressional District
Rep. Katie Porter proved that even a progressive can win in the heart of what was once California’s “Reagan country” in a district with a Repubican tilt. The law professor and protégé of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren snatched the Orange County seat in 2018 from Republican Rep. Mimi Walters. This time, Porter is the sole Democrat on the ballot and a handful of Republicans are dueling for a chance to challenge her, including Laguna Hills City Councilman Don Sedgwick, Yorba Linda Councilwoman Peggy Huang and Lisa Sparks, dean of Chapman University’s School of Communications.
48th Congressional District
Democrat Harley Rouda pushed out long-serving Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in this Orange County district in 2018 in an upset. The coastal district retains a Republican registration edge, but Rouda exposed its shifting politics with his surprise win. The leading Republican in the race is Michelle Steel, who heads the county Board of Supervisors.
49th Congressional District
First-term Rep. Mike Levin is defending his seat against Republican Brian Maryott, the only candidates on the ballot. The district anchored in San Diego County has a small Republican registration edge but has been growing increasingly favorable for Democrats for years. Levin carried the district by nearly 13 points in 2018.
Crowded field chases California seat after Rep. Hill scandal
LOS ANGELES (AP) — An ex-congressman, a state lawmaker, an online news personality and a former combat pilot are among the candidates hoping to fill a U.S. House seat north of Los Angeles — a race that’s being watched nationally for hints about which party might control Congress next year.
The swing 25th District that cuts through swaths of suburbs and small horse ranches was left vacant last year after first-term Democrat Katie Hill resigned amid a House ethics probe and sex scandal.
Republicans want the seat back, while Democrats believe they have a strong chance to hold it, despite its history as Republican-leaning terrain. In a twist that could confuse voters Tuesday, the ballot will include two elections for the seat. One is a special election to choose someone to complete the second year of Hill’s term. The other is a race to choose two candidates to advance to the November general election that will determine who takes the seat in 2021.
On the Republican side, the candidates in both races include former U.S. Rep. Steve Knight, who lost the seat to Hill two years ago; former Navy pilot Mike Garcia; and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who served a two-week prison sentence for lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. The Democratic field includes Christy Smith, a state assemblywoman backed by the party establishment, and online news personality and progressive Cenk Uygur.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the special election vote — the threshold to claim the seat — then the top-two vote-getters would be matched up in another special election in May.
The Democratic contest looks similar to the 2020 presidential race, with a split between the party’s center-left and progressive ranks. Knight and Garcia, meanwhile, have dueled over loyalty to President Donald Trump.
The district was long considered GOP terrain before Hill’s victory, and like much of California, it has been growing gradually more Democratic in voter registration. Democrats hold a 6-point registration edge in the district, which runs through northern Los Angeles County but also takes in a GOP-rich pocket in Ventura County, including the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
In a telling sign of change, Hillary Clinton carried the district by nearly 7 points in the 2016 presidential election. Two years later, Hill claimed what was then the last Republican-held House seat anchored in Los Angeles County with a 9-point win.
The district is among a string of California House seats that Republicans hope they can reclaim in 2020, including four all or partly in the former GOP stronghold of Orange County.
Of the state’s 53 congressional seats, only six are held by the GOP.