New: Who Won? Who Knows? Does It Matter?

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 08, 2018 - 04:58:00 PM

So I’ve been waiting to share my meditations on the electoral process until we got a final vote count for Assembly District 15, but I’m realizing that it could be a long time coming. If you want the latest version, possibly even the final, click here for the very competent web site which will tell you the latest numbers.

As I wait, I’m realizing that it really doesn’t matter much. The short answer is that well-endowed newbie candidate Buffy Wicks got a short third of the votes, less than 20,000 as the polls closed, and all the others, some of them very plausible, got all the rest. At the time of writing Dan Kalb and Jovanka Beckles, both well qualified in their own ways, were divying up another 19k or so, with a ~300 vote margin pointing to Kalb as Wicks’ November opponent, but that could change. Another short 20k was divided among candidates Katz, Bartlett, Appel and Pardue-Okimoto, all knowledgable East Bay officeholders, each with appeal to various segments of the progressive voter populations.

How many more votes are out there, still to be counted?

I posed this question to Berkeley voting statistics maven Rob Wrenn of the Berkeley Progressive Alliance. He opined that based on trends in Alameda and Contra Costa counties from 2014 to 2016, with only 20% of possible votes reported when the polls closed on Tuesday, there could easily be a third of the total still to be counted to get close to the 50% who voted in the 2016 presidential primary. 


Most voters I queried in the progressive circles I frequent were having a hard time deciding between Kalb and Beckles, which is reflected in the tally so far. A couple of less-engaged “regular” Democrats of my acquaintance were swayed by Buffy’s fresh face and flood of glossy mailers, especially the one with the Obama selfies, which hinted at but did not actually claim an Obama endorsement. 

Supporters of the other candidates, those with totals somewhere in the thousands, are likely to be on the progressive end of the spectrum, especially as regards certain specific issues: education (Appel), health care (Pardue-Okimoto), environment (Katz) or diversity (Bartlett). 

If the rough percentages from this election hold up, it seems likely that in the fall either Kalb or Beckles will get a significant percentage of the vote from the 60+percent of the remaining not-Buffy candidates, almost all of whom are more progressive than Wicks. The fact that Wicks has been heavily funded by the neo-Liberal and conservative donors to the Govern for California independent PAC will not work in her favor if word gets around. 

There’s no reason that supporters of any five of the six quasi-progressives in the race won’t be willing to vote for either Kalb or Beckles, especially because many of them (myself included) had trouble choosing between those two in the first place. Anyone with any sense could live with either of the two. 

The outcome of this race points once again to the superiority of ranked choice voting to the insane and expensive top-two method. It’s a good bet that a healthy number of the ~40k non-Buffy voters in this election were ready, willing and able to choose a second choice last Tuesday, saving the public a lot of money which will now go into the runoff. 

The problem, of course, with ranked choice, is that it’s counter-intuitive for American voters brought up on the two-party system. It’s the same reason that third parties no matter how virtuous have never gotten anywhere in this country, despite Europe’s success with multi-party systems. I did a term paper in high school (more than a couple of years ago now) on the dreary history of third parties, and remarkably little has changed. Americans think binary where elections are concerned, even if, as in Berkeley, the two choices in my time here have been captioned roughly moderate vs. progressive, since we’re almost all some kind of Democrat at heart (even the Berniecrats) or at least never Republicans. 

In Buffy Wicks some voters will believe they have a standard issue Democratic Central Campaign Committee candidate—or maybe not exactly. From the Govern for California website: “…courageous legislators cannot win without the support of political philanthropists.”  

Really? And what will she do with their support? 

She will appeal to fans of charter schools, backers of Costa-Hawkins-type limits on rent control, and those who applaud efforts by Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner and their allies to shift control of land use away from cities like Berkeley to those Sacramento legislators and their "philanthropists". 

With Wicks on the right flank, the other candidate, whoever he or she turns out to be, might be tempted to drift toward the center. We’ll just have to remind them that, in the immortal words of Jim Hightower, There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. Fortunately, whether it’s Beckles or Kalb on the ballot, progressive voters in AD15 are fully capable of doing just that. 

UPDATE: As of Friday night, Rob Wrenn now believes that votes counted after the polls closed on election night will probably end up being closer to 45% of the total, maybe close to a half, rather than a third. To see what remains to be counted in Alameda and Contra Costa counties: https://vote.sos.ca.gov/unprocessed-ballots-status 

AD-15 is made up of only parts of these two counties, so many of the uncounted votes are from other Assembly districts. Even so, because there are a lot more in Alameda than Contra Costa, Wrenn says he thinks Kalb is likely to win.