We may be setting a record for the most elections in a single year. For many in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties, it will feel like a civics lesson in electoral law. Four crucial races have no incumbent running, for four different reasons; and they will show up on your ballots in four different ways.
Ballots for the March 5 presidential primary election are being mailed to all registered voters. But be aware that a few weeks later voters will receive a second ballot, for the March 19 special election. For those in Congressional District 20 and/or Assembly District 32, more ballots will be coming — probably one in May, possibly one or two in summer, and definitely one ahead of the Nov. 5 general election.
With the passing of Dianne Feinstein in September 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom was able to appoint Laphonza Butler to fill that seat — but only until the next regularly scheduled election. The law requires that the person serving the remainder of the term (from the election until a new term begins on Jan. 3, 2025) be chosen by the people.
So, voters will be asked to vote twice for senator on a single ballot: Once to fill the remainder of the current term (yes, only two months); and a second time, to fill the seat for the full six-year term beginning on Jan. 3. Twenty-eight candidates are running for the full term. Seven are vying for what’s left of this term. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on March 5, the top two will advance to the Nov. 5 election, and voters will be asked to vote twice for senator again.
State Assembly District 33
This is a relatively straightforward situation. Current seat-holder Devon Mathis announced in early December that he is not running for re-election, but is serving out his full term. Thus, no special election is necessary, and voters will see this race on their ballots only once. (Of course, if no one garners more than 50 percent in the primary, the top two will go to the Nov. 5 election.)
Congressional House District 20
If you are in Congressional District 20 — which was vacated by Republican Kevin McCarthy’s Dec. 31 resignation — pay attention. You will have back-to-back elections.
On March 5, you are being asked to choose someone for the next full term, beginning on Jan. 3. Then, two weeks later, on March 19, you will be voting to fill what’s left of the current term.
The timing of the vacancy set a series of regulations in motion, forcing the governor to call this special election without appointing an interim representative. The rules were tailored to work well when California had our presidential primaries in June, but timing is pretty awkward for a March primary. Many folks will be receiving their second ballot before they’ve voted the first one. Additionally, the earlier election is to fill the later term, and vice-versa. This may be confusing but, until the law is changed, it is what it is.
State Assembly District 32
Depending upon the outcome of the District 20 election, it may be necessary to have a second pair of special elections to fill the seat currently held by Assemblymember Vince Fong. Only one candidate is on the ballot, and he stated publicly that he has dropped out of this race. Voters will have to wait and see how this unique situation unfolds.
Like all the election officials in the affected counties, Tulare County Registrar of Voters Michelle Baldwin and her crew will have their hands full dealing with two elections so close together.
“If you plan on voting by mail, we would like to request that you vote early,” she says. “We are in a unique position of having to conduct two elections back-to-back, which I believe will be a first for Tulare County. That means, we will be conducting two elections and canvassing (counting and certifying) both simultaneously.”
The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials would like to see the law changed so that this difficulty is never repeated. We agree. It is too stressful for election staff and volunteers, and too confusing for voters.
Donna Mekeel is president of the League of Women Voters of Tulare County. The league is a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization, which encourages informed and active participation in government, and works to increase understanding of major public policy issues.