Dr. Danielle Joesten Martin, Assistant Professor of Government, California State University, Sacramento
Needless to say, the 2016 election season has been historic and memorable for many reasons. Nationally, many political pundits and pollsters are wondering how so few predicted Donald Trump’s victory, Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate and House, and the national tide appears to be leaning conservative. Yet in California the election was marked by few surprises and further confirmation of California’s status as a blue state: Hillary Clinton won California’s 55 Electoral College votes, the U.S. Senate race in California was a contest between two Democrats, many progressive statewide ballot measures passed, and Democrats kept majorities (and may win supermajorities) in both the state Senate and Assembly. Although California is not a uniformly blue state, with a political divide between rural inland areas and populous coastal areas, many statewide contest results are contrary to more conservative national trends.
55 Electoral College votes for Clinton
Hillary Clinton won California’s 55 Electoral College votes with 61.5% of the statewide vote. Compared to the 2012 presidential election, Clinton won California by a higher percentage than President Obama: Clinton won by 28.3 percentage points compared to Obama’s 23.1 percentage points. As in recent presidential elections, however, support for the Democratic candidate was not uniform across the state. Clinton’s support comes primarily from coastal counties, particularly in the Bay Area and Los Angeles: 85.3% in San Francisco, 79.0% in Alameda County, 73.2% in Santa Clara County, and 71.5% in Los Angeles County, for example. A reflection of nationwide trends in 2016, rural areas in California favored Donald Trump. Trump won many Northeastern and Central Valley counties, some with resounding support: 72.3% in Lassen County, 71.8% in Modoc County, 60.4% in Amador County, and 56.3% in Kern County, for example.
A historic, yet unsurprising U.S. Senate election
Unlike many highly competitive U.S. Senate races around the nation in 2016 and thanks to the top-two primary, California’s election for the U.S. Senate seat to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer was between two Democrats. California Attorney General Kamala Harris easily defeated Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez 62.5% to 37.5%, with Sanchez only winning Glenn County and Imperial County. As an African-American and South Asian-American woman, Harris will be the first biracial woman and second African American woman in the U.S. Senate.
Statewide ballot measures
Californians passed 12 of 17 statewide ballot measures, instituting a fairly progressive agenda on topics such as legalizing marijuana, increasing taxes on cigarettes, banning single-use plastic bags, and background checks for ammunition sales.
Proposition 64 passed with 56.0%, legalizing recreational marijuana. The law went into effect immediately after Election Day, but the state has until January 1, 2018 to issue marijuana business licenses, and cities and counties may enact laws banning commercial marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions. Although marijuana consumption now is legal in California, there are restrictions such as prohibiting public consumption and limiting use and possession to adults over age 21. California is now one of seven states and the District of Columbia that has legalized recreational marijuana. Proposition 56, which increases taxes on tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes, passed with 62.9% and will go into effect in April 2017. With the passage of this tax increase, California moves from a state with one of the lowest tobacco tax rates to one of the highest in the nation at $2.87 per pack of cigarettes.
Voters approved extending higher income taxes on wealthy Californians through 2030 (Proposition 55). Labor unions, teachers, and health care professionals advocated for Proposition 55 because additional funds will go to low-income health care, schools, and the state’s rainy day fund. Also relevant to education, voters approved Propositions 51 and 58. Proposition 51 authorizes an additional $9 billion in bond funding for construction and renovation of K-12 and community college facilities. Proposition 58 passed by a wide margin (72.4% “Yes” to 27.6% “No”), modifying English language education requirements to give school districts more flexibility in developing bilingual and multilingual programs. A reversal of Proposition 227, passed by voters in 1998 and largely eliminated bilingual education in California, Proposition 58 still requires all students become proficient in the English language.
Californians voted for additional gun control measures, approving Proposition 63. Promoted by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Proposition 63 requires background checks for ammunition sales, prohibits gun magazines holding more than 10 rounds, requires reporting of lost or stolen guns, and establishes procedures for convicted felons to surrender their firearms. As part of Governor Brown’s effort to reform criminal justice sentencing, Proposition 57 provides more opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes to earn credits for rehabilitation, education, and good behavior, and increases possibilities of parole. The proposition was designed to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, but its impact largely will depend on implementation.
Fifty-two percent of Californians voted to ban single-use plastic bags (Proposition 67), approving a statewide ban Governor Brown signed into law in 2014. The statewide ban is in effect as of the day following the election, although this ban will not impact residents of the approximately 150 cities and counties that already ban single-use plastic bags. Proposition 65, also put on the ballot by the plastic bag industry, potentially to confuse voters, failed with 55.3% of Californians voting “No.”
Two of the measures voters rejected are Proposition 60, which would have required performers in the adult film industry to use condoms, and Proposition 53, which would have required voter approval for public projects using revenue bonds over $2 billion. Proposition 53 was opposed by Governor Brown, along with many local governments and public works districts. Californians approved Proposition 52, which makes a Medi-Cal fee private hospitals pay permanent. Proposition 59, an advisory measure calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, passed but will not change federal campaign finance law. Proposition 54 passed with 64.3% in favor, requiring proposed legislation to be in print and available online for three days before lawmakers vote. It also requires videos of all public meetings to be available online.
Contrary to liberal trends of other statewide ballot measure preferences, Californians rejected repealing the death penalty (Proposition 62 failed with 53.9% of Californians voting “No”), and supported streamlining death penalty procedures (Proposition 66 tentatively passed narrowly with 50.9% of Californians voting “Yes.” Note that it is considered one of the Secretary of State’s “close contests” – see next paragraph). Opponents of Proposition 66 already filed a suit requesting the state Supreme Court stop the proposition from taking effect. The most expensive statewide ballot campaign this year, Proposition 61, failed with 53.7% of Californians voting “No.” Under Proposition 61, state programs could pay no more than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays for prescription drugs. The opposition campaign took advantage of uncertainty regarding how pharmaceutical companies would react, and argued that it could lead to higher costs for veterans and seniors.
Results are not official yet
As of today there remain a few “close contests,” defined by the Secretary of State as races with a less than 2% difference between “Yes” and “No” votes for ballot measures or between the top two candidates. These races include Proposition 66 (Death Penalty Procedure Time Limits), U.S. House District 7 (Ami Bera versus Scott Jones), State Senate District 29 (Josh Newman versus Ling Ling Chang), and State Assembly District 65 (Sharon Quirk-Silva versus Young Kim). Vote-by-mail ballots (which may arrive to elections officials up to three days after Election Day and be counted), provisional ballots, and damaged ballots are processed after Election Day. County elections officials have approximately one month to process, count, tally, audit, and certify their final results. The Secretary of State certifies results for presidential electors by December 10, 2016 and all state contests by December 16, 2016. You can find updated, official election results on the Secretary of State’s website: http://vote.sos.ca.gov/.