California: What to expect on election night in high-stakes midterm races
Democrats dominate California politics. The party controls all statewide elected offices, has super majorities in both houses of the state Legislature and controls 80% of the state’s congressional seats. A Republican presidential candidate has not won California since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
But that doesn’t mean Republicans can’t have an impact in the nation’s most populous state. California has multiple competitive congressional races that, should Republicans win, could give the GOP a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That would catapult U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield into the speaker’s office, replacing fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi for the next two years.
Read more:California’s most fiercely contested political turf is in this southern Central Valley area
Voters in Los Angeles will pick a new mayor between longtime U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso. Statewide, voters will decide the fate of seven ballot initiatives, including whether to make abortion a constitutional right and whether to allow sports betting.
Elsewhere, most of California’s statewide races are not competitive. Democratic U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla is expected to easily win election to a full six-year term after being appointed to the office last year to replace now-Vice President Kamala Harris. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will likely cruise to a second term against Republican Brian Dahle, a little-known state senator who has struggled to raise money.
Republicans’ best chance to win their first statewide election since 2006 is Lanhee Chen, a former policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign who is running for controller. But winning will be difficult in a state where there are nearly twice as many registered Democratic voters as Republicans.
Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:
Polls close 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET).
HOW CALIFORNIA VOTES
All registered voters in California are sent a ballot in the mail about a month before Election Day, though they also can choose to vote instead at a polling place. Ballots can be mailed back, dropped in an official ballot box or brought to a polling place. To be counted, mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and county election officials must receive them by Nov. 15.
At polling places, some of which open before Election Day, voters can either go into a booth with a fresh ballot or drop off their mailed ballot – but cannot do both. An unregistered voter can show up at a polling place and register through 8 p.m. local time on Election Day, when polls close.
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The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome. Per the 2022 AP CA State ELN Research Report, California has no “mandatory recount provision” but does allow “non-mandatory recounts”
The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2% or if the leading candidate is within 2% of the 50% runoff threshold. AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
Q: WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE PRIMARY?
A: In the June primary, one-third of the almost 22 million registered voters cast ballots – mostly by mail. The 7,285,230 total votes were a new high for a California gubernatorial primary – slightly above the 7,141,947 votes cast in June 2018.
Q: WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THE PANDEMIC ELECTION OF 2020?
A: Every registered California voter will get a ballot mailed to them under a bill signed in September of 2021 by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The law made permanent a change adopted during the pandemic for the 2020 election and the 2021 recall against Newsom. California, the nation’s most populous state, joins several other Western states in mailing all voters a ballot, including Utah, Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
Under the new law, ballots in California must go out at least 29 days before the election. Voters still have the option to drop off their ballot or vote in person. Prior to the pandemic, many Californians were already voting by mail.
Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?
A: As of Sept. 9, 2022, there were 21,885,545 registered voters in California, including 10,261,998 Democrats (46.89%), 5,225,578 Republicans (23.88%), 4,930,549 who indicated No Party Preference (22.53%) and 1,467,420 who indicated other party (6.70%).
In the 2020 general election, 17,785,151 ballots were cast. In 2018, 12,712,542 ballots were cast.
All registered voters receive ballots by mail issued 29 days before the election. Ballot drop boxes opened 28 days before the election. Mailed in Ballots can be received up to 7 days after the election if postmarked by Election Day - and ballots are still accepted if the postmark is missing or illegible.
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Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?
A: In the 2020 general election, the first results came in just after 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. ET), with half of all precincts reporting by 12:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET) that night. In the 2020 general election, 32.3% of the total vote count was not counted on election night. In the 2018 general election, 43.8% of the total vote count was not counted on election night.
Q: WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS WITH EARLY RETURNS?
A: Knowing how the state processes ballots is key to understanding trends in the vote count on election night and the days after. In California, officials can begin processing ballots – such as checking signatures – 29 days before the election, but a vote count cannot be released until polls close on election day. Mail ballots that are received by county elections officials before election day are typically counted on Election Day, along with in-person votes. Many more mail ballots are dropped off at polling places, drop box locations, or arrive at county elections offices on Election Day. Finally, mail ballots can be received up to seven days after the election, if postmarked by Election Day.
California ballot processing rules and the demographics of voters who decide to vote early, on Election Day, in person or by mail are both important contributors to the trends visible in the vote count on Election Day and in the days after.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER TUESDAY?
A: Lots of counting. With millions of ballots counted after Election Day, the outcome of tight races can shift and take days or weeks to determine. Since California sends a ballot to every registered voter, election officials will accept mailed ballots for seven days after Election Day, as long as it was postmarked by Nov. 8. California does not have an automatic recount law, but a registered voter may request one in a statewide contest, but must pay for it. The governor can order a state-funded recount on statewide races or ballot measures under certain circumstances, like a race margin being less than 1,000 votes or .015% of all ballots cast.
The secretary of state must certify statewide results within 38 days of Election Day.
Check voter status: Check your voter status at My Voter Status to confirm mailing address and status through Sept. 1.
Track your ballot: Track your vote-by-mail ballot by signing up at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to receive text, email, or voice status alerts.
Where do I vote? Find your polling place by entering your address at sos.ca.gov/elections/polling-place