California has 4.5 million ballots left to count. That could spell trouble for GOP

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong looks over trays filled with ballots on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. As many as 50,000 remain to be counted after Tuesday’s election.
San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong looks over trays filled with ballots on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. As many as 50,000 remain to be counted after Tuesday’s election.

Election Day may be over, but California has more than 4.5 million ballots left to count.

The uncounted ballots could push voter turnout to nearly 60 percent of those registered. Participation in a non-presidential election has not hit 60 percent in California since 1994, although it hit 59 percent in 2010.

The ballots also could be the difference in several uncalled statewide, congressional and legislative races, and Democrats are hoping a large turnout might just be enough to put top candidates over the edge.

Democrats have traditionally outperformed Republicans as more and more votes get counted after Election Day.

“Later voters are much more progressive and diverse,” said Paul Mitchell, a political consultant and vice president of the bipartisan voter data firm Political Data. “That means if Republicans are in a contest where the vote difference is a percent or two, that is something that historically isn’t enough to withstand the ballots that are going to come in.”

Los Angeles and Orange counties account for over 1.4 million of the outstanding ballots. Many contested races are in Southern California, which could spell trouble for Republicans seeking re-election.

Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters, said he saw historic turnout as campaigns made last-ditch efforts to drive people to the polls on Election Day. He projects turnout in the county will land somewhere between 65 and 68 percent.

“I went back to 1978, and there’s nothing even close,” Kelley said, noting the last highest turnout for a similar election was 62 percent back in 1990.

Orange County estimates it will have nearly 420,000 ballots left to count in the coming days — and perhaps even weeks. The process for totaling the votes could take anywhere from 11-18 days, Kelley said.

Democrat Harley Rouda appears in prime position to unseat Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Rouda has extended his lead over the last 24 hours and is now ahead of Rohrabacher by 2.4 percentage points, or 4,756 votes. Rouda celebrated the results but has yet to officially declare victory.

“All ballots will be counted and we will continue to update,” Rouda tweeted Thursday evening.

As more votes get counted, Democrats could also find themselves narrowing deficits in areas Republicans are currently leading. Rep. Mimi Walters has a diminishing lead in her Irvine-centered district in Orange County, with Democratic challenger Katie Porter now trailing by just 2 percentage points.

The Associated Press has yet to call five congressional races, two statewide office seats and 16 spots in the California Legislature.

As results continue to come in, here’s where things currently stand in races too close to call, based on the latest numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office.

House of Representatives

Democrats have secured a majority in the U.S. House. They now enjoy a 225-197 lead over Republicans, with 13 races across the country still considered too close to call. Democrats are winning in five of those races. All 13 seats up for grabs are in districts Republicans currently control. These are the five races still being watched in California:

  • District 10: Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, leads Democratic challenger Josh Harder by 1.2 percentage points — a difference of 1,287 votes
  • District 25: Located in northern Los Angeles County, Democrat Katie Hill is ahead of Rep. Steve Knight, the Republican incumbent of Lancaster, by 2.6 percentage points — or 4,117 votes.
  • District 39: This Orange County area located by Fullerton is being hotly contested between Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros. They’re competing for the seat Republican Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, chose to vacate. Kim is fending off CIsneros with a 3,874-vote lead. She’s ahead of Cisneros by 2.6 percentage points.
  • District 45: Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, is hoping President Donald Trump’s base will enough to keep her seat out of the hands of Democratic challenger Porter. Walters leads by 2 percentage points — a difference of 4,037 votes.
  • District 48: Rounding out the pack is this closely watched coastal race in Orange County between Rohrabacher R-Costa Mesa, and Rouda. A loss here would be the biggest surprise to Republicans. The candidates were tied by the middle of Tuesday night, but Rouda now holds a 2.4 percentage point lead.

Statewide Offices

  • Insurance Commissioner: Steve Poizner, who previously held the job as a Republican but listed himself on the ballot without party preference, is looking to prevent total Democratic control in key statewide races. He’s trailing Democratic State Sen. Ricardo Lara by 1.6 percentage points. With over 6.8 million ballots cast, Lara is up by about 116,000 votes.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction: In what could be the tightest statewide race, Marshall Tuck is ahead of Assemblyman Tony Thurmond by 1.2 percentage points — or 71,519 votes.

California Legislature

Democrats are pursuing two-thirds supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate. Though it’s not yet official, it appears they are in good position to do so, given their existing stronghold in the Assembly and need for just one more seat in the Senate. The Associated Press has yet to call six races for the California Senate and 10 seats in the Assembly. These are a few of the most contested races:

  • Senate District 12: Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero is winning by just over 1,000 votes. Her 1 percent lead makes this the closest race in the state Senate. If she can beat Republican Rob Poythress, her party would pick up a seat and effectively capture a two-thirds supermajority.
  • Senate District 14: Another vulnerable Republican is State Sen. Andy Vidak. Vidak trails Democratic challenger Melissa Hurtado by 3.6 percentage points, or 3,018 votes. This is the best pickup opportunity in the senate for Democrats and likeliest pathway to a supermajority.
  • Assembly District 16: The only GOP seat in the Bay Area is now in play. Sen. Catharine Baker is looking to fend off her Democratic challenger, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan. Baker holds a 2.4 percent lead, up by nearly 3,000 votes.
  • Assembly District 32: A rare pickup opportunity for Republicans appears to be staying in Democratic hands. Democrat Rudy Salas is leading by 4.4 percentage points against Republican challenger Justin Mendes.
  • Assembly District 38: In Santa Clarita, Republican incumbent Dante Acosta is looking to hold off Democratic challenger Christy Smith. Acosta leads by just 1 percent of the vote, or 1,222 people.
  • Assembly District 60: There’s always those races where the phrase “every vote counts” rings true. This race between Democratic Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes and Republican challenger Bill Essayli is neck-and-neck, with Essayli ahead by just 176 votes. Cervantes trails by 0.4 percentage points with 57,198 people voting. This is the best shot for Republicans to gain an Assembly seat.

  • Assembly District 74: Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper is also in a close fight, trailing in his Irvine-based district by just 0.4 percentage points. Democrat Cottie Petrie-Norris leads by 620 votes.

Curious about what's happening at the Capitol?

So are we. Every day, reporters at The Sacramento Bee are investigating and researching the business of politics in California, breaking down the stories, the constituencies and the impacts of these decisions so you don’t have to.
  • We explain how Capitol dealmaking affects your pocketbook, your job and your family.
  • We hold California politicians and state agencies accountable with in-depth watchdog reporting.
  • We deliver crystal clear, vital information to help inform how you might vote on specific issues or candidates.
Stay informed. Take advantage of a 99-cents offer for your first month of access to The Sacramento Bee.