California has arguably the most important primaries in the country this year — races that will play a crucial role in determining control of the House this November.
But the candidates and strategists who have lost countless hours of sleep over the fights for these seats aren’t likely to get much of a respite on June 5.
California is notoriously slow at counting ballots, and has changed its laws for this election in some ways that may be good for voting access, but will be rough on those who are waiting to find out what candidates will survive the state’s convoluted all-party primaries.
The state relies heavily on vote-by-mail, an option that more than 70 percent of voters are expected to choose. And this year, California for the first time will count any ballots that are postmarked by election day, rather than requiring all ballots to be received by election day.
That means that ballots are likely to be trickling in as late as Friday, making close contests even more difficult to call — and forcing candidates in tight places to brace for a long process.
“We’re going to have a long week,” California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman told TPM on Friday.
On top of that, the obvious fact that California is on the West Coast and its final ballots will be counted at 1:30 a.m. PST, 4:30 a.m. EST, means that even if the election-day returns are enough to determine a winner, they won’t be released until late into the night.
California also tends to have a higher number of provisional ballots than other states, partly to ensure people who voted by mail don’t vote again on election day — a tedious process to check.
That’s led to a number of long, drawn out election counts, even in races that ended up not being that close. In 2014, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) had to wait almost a week to know he’d won reelection. It took weeks before now-Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) was officially declared a runoff candidate that same year. And it took almost a month for now-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be declared the winner of her 2010 race for Attorney General.
All that has California politicos bracing for a rough stretch.
“I’d be very happy if we know that night. I think it might drag on a little bit… it could be a long count,” Democratic congressional candidate Andy Thorburn told TPM with a rueful laugh Wednesday. “We should probably start a [betting] pool!”