Days after Tuesday’s primary election, four congressional and 11 Assembly races — as well as Proposition 29, a proposed cigarette tax — still are undecided. In most of the candidate contests, it’s not yet clear who finished second — a crucial position in the state’s new “top-two” elections system. The 15 unsettled races, one of which hung by two votes Friday, represent a significant jump from the typical three or four in past elections, according to Allan Hoffenblum, who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book of state contests. They’re a product of the new primary system and freshly drawn voting districts. “Now we’ve got a whole smorgasbord of interesting contests,” Hoffenblum said.
Under the old primary system, the top finisher in each party with candidates on the ballot advanced to the fall election. Now, only those who place first and second, regardless of party, can compete in November. Tuesday’s primary produced several fall contests with two members of the same party, including an expensive, widely watched clash between veteran Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman for a San Fernando Valley congressional district seat.
In every election, uncounted ballots remain. Mail-in voting is increasingly popular, and those ballots are counted later if they arrive after polls open. Provisional ballots must be verified. And some ballots are damaged. California’s secretary of state said Friday that more than 1 million ballots were still outstanding, but counties have almost a month to finish counting. In most elections, the gaps separating candidates are large enough that the updated tabulations don’t affect the outcome. But in close contests — those with a 1- or 2-point margin between the winner and loser — the additional ballots can upend the results.