Vote count nears end in close South Bay congressional race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday March 21, 2024
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South Bay U.S. House primary race with gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) comes down to the last ballots to count. Photo: Courtesy of the candidate
South Bay U.S. House primary race with gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) comes down to the last ballots to count. Photo: Courtesy of the candidate

The vote count is nearing an end in the South Bay congressional contest where gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) has been hanging onto a bare-bones lead for second place in recent days. After Santa Clara County updated its tally Thursday, Low had a one-vote advantage.

Angling to overcome him is Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who had expressed optimism of surviving the March 5 primary following his second-place finish on election night. One of the two Democrats will move on to the general election November 5 and compete against former San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo for the open House District 16 seat that spans San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

The winner in the fall will succeed Congressmember Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto). Her decision to retire at the end of her current term led to the crowded primary race.

It prompted Low to vie to be elected the Bay Area's first LGBTQ congressmember instead of run for reelection to his legislative seat. His candidacy had attracted national attention from LGBTQ leaders and groups aimed at electing out candidates to public office.

And if he moves on to the fall ballot, Low is sure to benefit from the largess of LGBTQ donors and political action committees. No matter who advances out of the primary, the House race is sure to be one of the most expensive and closely watched in California.

San Mateo elections officials have just four ballots left to count and will next post an update Friday by 4:30 p.m. The county registrar reports having 652 challenged ballots that could be "cured" before 5 p.m. on April 2, meaning those voters have a chance to address the irregularity found with their ballot in order to have it be counted.

Santa Clara County elections officials reported Thursday morning they still had 1,025 ballots to tabulate and another 1,000 challenged ballots pending due to issues with voters' signatures. Another vote count is expected Friday by 5 p.m.

Liccardo now leads with 38,449 votes. Low's total remained at 30,216 votes, and Simitian now has 30,215 votes.

Low's campaign has not issued comment since last week, when it posted on X March 13 that it was waiting for "all votes being counted in this race." That Wednesday, Low had taken the lead for second place for the first time in the primary race.

The race is likely to come down the challenged ballots that are cured and added to the total. The election results are to be certified by April 4.

Either of the candidates or any registered voter in the state can request a recount of the vote. They will need to do so within five calendar days after the completion of the official canvass and signing of the certificate of the election results, as explained by the Santa Clara registrar of voters. The person making the request will also need to cover the cost of the recount.

Back in 2014 gay then-Assemblymember John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) requested a recount in his primary bid to be state controller and first LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in California. He had fallen behind Betty Yee, a fellow Democrat serving at the time on the state Board of Equalization, by less than 500 votes.

It didn't alter the outcome of the race, which Yee went on to win. She termed out of the controller office at the start of 2023 and is now running for governor in 2026.

Two years ago, after neither Richmond City Council candidate requested a recount in their tied race by the deadline to do so, Cesar Zepeda won the East Bay city's District 2 council seat after the city clerk drew his name from a red Christmas holiday shopping bag. As the B.A.R. noted, Zepeda became the first gay man elected to the council.

Other House races with LGBTQ candidates

California currently is the only West Coast state with LGBTQ members among its congressional delegation. Gay Democratic Congressmembers Mark Takano of Riverside and Robert Garcia of Long Beach are expected to easily win reelection in November.

Lesbian Democratic U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, appointed last October to serve out the term of the late Dianne Feinstein, opted not to run for the seat. She is expected to step down following the fall election.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) lost her primary bid for the seat and will be leaving the House at the end of her term. While Jennifer Kim-Anh Tran, Ph.D., a queer Oakland resident, took second place in the March 5 primary for Lee's District 12 House seat in Alameda County, it is widely expected that BART board member Lateefah Simon will easily win it on November 5.

Endorsed by both Butler and Lee, Simon took first place with nearly 56% of the primary vote. Tran received 14.93%.

With Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) the first place winner in the primary for the Senate seat, expected to succeed him in the District 30 House seat is Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale). She was the top finisher of her primary race and is expected to easily defeat gay Republican Dr. Alex Balekian come the fall in the heavily Democratic district that includes the gay enclave of West Hollywood.

Three gay Democratic Southern California congressional candidates who fell short in 2022 again face tough campaigns this year. All three came in second in their March 5 primary matchups.

Gay progressive lawyer David Kim is again tying to oust Congressmember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) from his District 34 House seat. Kim would be the first out Korean American in Congress.

Progressive activist Derek Marshall is mounting another underdog bid to oust Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) from his District 23 House seat in the high desert areas east of Los Angeles. In the Coachella Valley, gay attorney Will Rollins is once again trying to oust Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) from his District 41 House seat that now includes the LGBTQ retirement and resort town of Palm Springs where Rollins lives with his partner.

Primaries in Oregon on May 21 and Washington on August 6 will determine if out congressional candidates in those states will advance to the November ballot.

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