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CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

“We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

“I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

“I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

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Worst. Turnout. Ever.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the June 3 primary election’s results Friday – and voter turnout, it turns out, was the worst ever.

worst turnout everBowen reports only 25.2 percent of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot, the lowest voter turnout of any statewide election in California’s history. The previous low was 29.2 percent in June 2008.

“There is no doubt the turnout number is disappointing, but if ever there was a statewide election where every vote mattered, this was certainly it,” Bowen, the state’s chief elections official, said in a news release. “If there is any silver lining, I hope it’s a reminder to people who didn’t vote in June to take note of close results such as the State Controller contest and commit to going to the polls in November.”

California voters set another record last month: More than 69 percent of those who voted did so by mail-in ballots, beating the previous high of 65 percent in June 2012.

Bowen will publish a Supplement to the Statement of Vote by November 8, which will include details about how votes were cast by each city and each legislative, congressional, county supervisorial district, and Board of Equalization district.

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Yee aims to widen online registration’s reach

Hot from the resounding success of the online voter registration system his legislation enabled, a Bay Area lawmaker now wants to expand that system’s reach.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, today introduced a bill that would put a link to the online registration system run by the Secretary of State on every state government website.

“The use of online voter registration was overwhelming, but we need to continue to find new ways to get as many citizens as possible involved in our democracy,” Yee said in a news release. “When Californians access their state government via the internet, we should encourage them to vote and have their voice heard at the ballot box.”

“There are more than 5 ½ million eligible Californians who are not registered to vote. Senate Bill 44 will help us reach these individuals and significantly increase the voter rolls.”

The new system, which went live in September, let nearly 800,000 Californians register online to vote in November’s election, helping to boost the state’s registered voters to a record 18.25 million and – some believe – contributing to Democrats’ success in reaching legislative supermajorities.

Yee cited early numbers showing that those who registered to vote using the new online system were significantly more likely to cast a ballot in the November election.

According to Political Data Inc. (PDI), turnout was 84.7 percent in Sacramento County from those who registered online – 10 percentage points higher than the county average. In Orange County, those who registered online turned out at 82 percent versus the county average of 72 percent. Fresno County saw an even larger uptick in turnout among those who registered online: 78.2 percent, versus the county average of only 63.8 percent. Figures for other counties are still being collected.

“Not only were we able to increase turnout among those who registered online, but we significantly increased participation among young people and first time voters,” said Yee.

UPDATE @ 4:19 P.M. THURSDAY: A quick clarification and amplification – these comparisons in Sacramento, Orange and Fresno counties are between those who registered online between Sept. 19 (when the new system went live) and Oct. 22 and all other voters in those counties regardless of when they registered. The turnout rates are much closer if you compare those who registered online during those few final weeks and those who registered on paper during the same time period. Also, it’s worth noting that while Yee sponsored the legislation authorizing the new system, it was Secretary of State Debra Bowen who secured federal funding and built a successful system in only about nine months, a very short time by state IT project standards.

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An Election Day holiday in California?

I talked this morning with Roy Benson, the Bay Area man whom Secretary of State Debra Bowen cleared this week to start circulating for petition signatures his ballot measure to make Election Day a state holiday every other year.

“I’ve been working on this for many years, and its time to get the word out,” said Benson. “It’s very important especially during these times, these are critical times.”

The Election Day Holiday initiative, according to the Attorney General’s summary, “establishes an Election Day state holiday as the Tuesday following the first Monday in November during even-numbered years.” The summary of the Legislative Analyst’s and state Finance Director’s estimate of fiscal impact is that it would cost the state less than $20 million every two years.

Benson said that’s a small price to pay for increased voter turnout and a deeper pool of polling volunteers, which would make the electoral process more transparent.

“It’s not about changing the landscape of voting, it doesn’t benefit any party, it doesn’t favor this issue or that issue, it doesn’t benefit anybody except the voter, and what’s wrong with that?,” he said.

I asked whether he thought business groups might oppose such a thing because it would mean another paid holiday for which they have to foot the bill. “Do they say that about other holidays?” Benson responded, noting this holiday would be a worthwhile celebration of “one of the most dynamic, inspirational constitutions the world has ever seen.” That’s the kind of democratic ideal the United States tries to promote around the world, he added, and we should be a role model.

Benson has until Sept. 1 to collect signatures of 504,760 registered voters – the number equal to five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election – in order to qualify his initiative for the ballot.

So far, he said, he has no financial backing or volunteer force. “We’re just getting the word out … “I guess you would say it’s a grassroots type of situation at this point.”

This is Benson’s second bite at the apple; he circulated a similar initiative in 2008, but didn’t get enough signatures.

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Highest turnout in past 5 gubernatorial votes

The results are now certified, and California’s Nov. 2 election saw the greatest voter turnout – 59.6 percent of the state’s registered voters – in the past five gubernatorial votes, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported this evening.

“I applaud the work of each county elections official and the more than 100,000 elections workers and volunteers who helped to make voting as easy as possible for every eligible Californian,” Bowen said in a news release.

Looking back, 56.2 percent of registered voters participated in the 2006 gubernatorial election; voter turnout for the 2002 gubernatorial election was 50.6 percent; and 57.6 percent of registered voters turned out in 1998. So last month’s was the highest gubernatorial election turnout since 60.5 percent of voters cast ballots when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson topped Democrat State Treasurer Kathleen Brown in 1994.

Was it Meg Whitman’s deep pockets, either directly or in backlash, that accounted for this surge to the polls? Was it the question of marijuana legalization? Was it part of the national political furor? All of those things, or none? Have at it, commenters.

Ballots cast by mail accounted for 48.4 percent of the votes cast in last month’s election; that’s up from 41.6 percent in 2006. The counties with the highest vote-by-mail voters as a percentage of total turnout were Mendocino (79.4 percent), Nevada (73.9 percent) and El Dorado (70.5 percent), though all voters in Alpine and Sierra counties cast ballots by mail.

“Vote-by-mail voting has steadily increased in popularity over the last 32 years since the law was changed to allow any registered voter to vote by mail,” Bowen said.

Overall, the counties with the highest turnout of registered voters were Sierra (81.9 percent), Nevada (80.8 percent) and Amador (77.6 percent), while turnout was the lowest in Imperial (49.8 percent), Merced (50.9 percent) and Fresno (52.2 percent) counties.

A new total number of gubernatorial ballots cast means a new threshold to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot: For the next four years, proponents will have to gather signatures from at least 504,775 registered voters – five percent of the total votes cast for governor last month – in order to put their measures to a vote. Proponents for a constitutional amendment will need 807,639 signatures, or eight percent of last month’s gubernatorial votes.

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Voter turn-out already huge

I stopped at the Contra Costa County election office this morning in downtown Martinez to pick up campaign finance reports. Geeminy. It was nuts.

It was even crazier on Sunday — 900 people came downtown Martinez on a Sunday to vote.

“Never, never, never in my career have I seen anything like this,” said Registrar of Voters Steve Weir on his way through the office.

As of Monday afternoon, Weir reported that 35 percent of registered voters had already voted. That’s about the same percentage that voted in the entire June primary election.

Just wait until tomorrow.