The election is over but the suspense remains over whether David Campos or David Chiu will become the successor to Tom Ammiano's state Assembly seat, as more than 22,000 ballots in the District 17 race remain uncounted.
On Election Night, when all the votes were counted except for the vote-by-mail ballots that came in on Election Day or those dropped off at polling stations and provisional ballots, Chiu was ahead of Campos by 2,397 votes, 51.37 percent to 48.63 percent. After about 5,000 more ballots — those that came into the mail on Election Day — were counted in the race Wednesday, Chiu's lead inched upwards to 3,049.
But no one is declaring victory or presuming to know which way the rest of the votes will break. Department of Elections Director John Arntz said Wednesday that there are about 40,000 vote-by-mail ballots that were dropped off at polling stations left to count, which includes 22,356 in the Assembly race. There are also about 11,000 provisional ballots left to count in what is a low-turnout race. Estimates put turnout at about 51 percent. Arntz said he expected to finish counting vote by mail ballots by Saturday or Sunday.
“It's hard to tell what the numbers will be,” Nate Albee, who ran Campos' campaign, said Wednesday afternoon. “We're waiting for the votes to be counted before we weigh in. We always knew this would be close.”
David Latterman, principal of Fall Line Analytics, a political research firm, agreed that the race was too close to call and it was difficult to predict. Latterman said that during the June primary votes counted after Election Day resulted in Campos closing his gap by 1.3 percent in his loss to Chiu.
“When the returns came in Campos moved up by 1.3 percent. 1.3 won't be enough. Will it more than that? Will it be less than that?” Latterman said.
Chiu's campaign manager, Nicole Derse, said the race is “just too close” to call. “There's a lot of ballots. We need to wait.”
The uncertainty prolongs what had turned into a race with a negative tone, not only with bitter debates between candidates, but also with political mailers paid for by third-party groups neither candidate had any control over.
Some Campos supporters suggested that mailers slamming Campos for his vote to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff despite being convicted of domestic violence actually suppressed Chiu's votes, helping to close the gap between the two candidates. But Derse said “this was an issue that voters cared about.”
The initial mailers that angered some domestic violence survivors came from a group the Chiu campaign had no control over. They were funded by an independent political committee that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the technology industry from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and tech investor Ron Conway, Mayor Ed Lee's prominent backer.
Campos' supporters also sent out attack ads, Derse noted, that falsely suggested Chiu was anti-choice and a Republican. But as Election Day drew near, Chiu’s campaign also paid for attack ads using the domestic violence issue. Supervisor Eric Mar had condemned the ads as “despicable” during an election eve rally criticizing the ads for exploiting domestic violence victims for political gain.
Derse said her candidate's lead shows Chiu had the “ability to communicate his results and inspire people,” convincing voters he'd be more effective in Sacramento.
In the District 10 supervisor race, incumbent Malia Cohen has prevailed in ranked-choice voting over challengers Tony Kelly and Marlene Tran, according to ranked-choice voting results. “Cohen already beat these people,” Latterman said, noting that Kelly and Tran employed the “same messaging” as 2010.
“What Malia had this time that she didn't have last time was a unified African-American vote,” Latterman said. “Four years ago, it split between her and Lynette [Sweet]. This time, it was all hers.”
*Note: this story has been updated to reflect more accurately the source of the domestic violence campaign mailers.