San Francisco voters turned out in spades to help send Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House, but whether The City’s efforts will be replicated nationwide remained unclear heading into Wednesday morning as a number of states were embroiled in counts too close to call, delays on tallying vote-by-mail ballots and the threat of lawsuits from President Donald Trump.
Former vice president Biden and Bay Area native Harris carried The City with 86 percent of the counted vote as of the most recent results, with tens of thousands of in-person votes and outstanding mail-in ballots still being counted.
Trump had received only 12 percent.
As of now, the race remains too close to call nationally, though Biden is inching towards the needed 270 votes in the electoral college after news outlets projected he would win Wisconsin Wednesday morning.
Even though San Francisco’s presidential preference was never in question, today many remain fixed on results trickling in from other parts of the country where the outcome is not a foregone conculsion.
Jeremy Lee, Vice President of the Rose Pak Democratic Club, said the closeness of the race is predictable given the pervasive role ideology plays in determinig voter behavior, something he sees even here in liberal San Francisco.
“While there are still millions of votes yet to be counted, the trends we see are not surprising. We know from our own Chinese community—on issues like affirmative action, marijuana, and policing—that once certain ideologies take root, it takes a tremendous amount of outreach and education to change perceptions,” he said. “Despite the clear failures of the Trump Administration, we’re seeing many Americans still entrenched in his rhetoric. It’s up to Democrats to provide a better narrative.”
Presidential contests always have the power to reshape national priorities and leverage the weight of the federal government behind sweeping changes that impact everyday Americans, such as health care, infrastructure and civil rights.
But 2020 is no ordinary year, and the race between Trump and Biden is no ordinary bid for the presidency.
Shrouded in a global pandemic, economic recession and a national reckoning on racial justice, this election pitted two candidates with entirely different visions for the nation against one another.
While the Trump campaign held on to its hallmark raucous rallies with massive unmasked crowds, the Biden campaign ditched the traditional format in favor of drive-in events and smaller gatherings.
Whereas the current president said the nation was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic and called on schools, businesses and tourism to open up, his challenger said the country was approaching “a dark winter” and cautioned against forcing reopening at the expense of public health.
And, when presented with the opportunity to disavow white supremacists, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” while Biden, who himself has a controversial track record on criminal justice, interrogated his own past and called for “unity over division.”
Biden supporters said empathy and decency were on the ballot. Trump supporters said it was freedom and the economy.
Supporters of both parties turned out in droves to cast their ballot on behalf of their respective candidates with nearly 100 million nationwide people voting-by-mail or making the trip to polls before Election Day.
San Francisco turnout
San Francisco was no exception.
Of registered voters, nearly 62 percent opted to cast their vote using a mail-in ballot.
By comparison, during the last presidential election in 2016, about 51 percent of registered voters returned their mail ballot.
John Arntz, Director of the San Francisco Department of Elections, said some, but not all, of this surge could be attributed to the emergency legislation that mandated every registered voter in California would receive a vote-by-mail ballot automatically this year as a response to COVID-19.
“Even though all voters received ballots in the mail, their having these ballots is likely not the only reason for the early returns,” he said.
Overall turnout rate in San Francisco is expected to be high this year as well.
Nearly 81 percent of San Francisco’s nearly 514,000 registered voters came out to cast their ballot in one way or another in 2016, the highest since the election of Barack Obama eight years prior.
John Arntz told the Examiner in an interview earlier this week that he would not be surprised if this year’s election yielded a voter turnout rate not only higher than in 2008, but the highest in history.
The overall voter turnout rate is not yet known, but Arntz did tell the Examiner Wednesday afternoon that the projected turnout based on the initial count of ballots is closer to 85 percent.
To set a record, voter turnout rate would need to exceed 86.8 percent, a record that has held in San Francisco since 1944.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a more accurate sense of the number of ballots today, which may affect this turnout number,” he said.
San Francisco goes for Biden
San Franciscans’ strong preference for Biden in this election is no surprise. The City is a Democratic stronghold. Of the nearly 522,000 registered voters this year, about 62 percent identified as Democrats.
If anything, Biden might have once been considered too centrist for some local voters.
During the California Democratic Presidential Primary in March, almost 35 percent of San Francisco voters cast their ballot for Bernie Sanders, a far more progressive candidate.
Biden was second with 24 percent, closely followed by another progressive Elizabeth Warren, who captured almost 23 percent of the vote.
Local Democrats have rallied around Biden in the months since, however, earning endorsements from local political groups such as San Francisco Berniecrats and the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters that previously considered him too moderate a candidate within the primary field.
“Our best hope to pull back from the brink is to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, both of whom we’ve had our share of disagreements with,” the League wrote in its voting guide. “This was a decision we wanted to avoid, but it’s the right decision for the moment.”
Too early to call
Despite Trump’s ostensible drubbing in San Francisco, there’s far less certainty regarding the outcome at the national level as of Wednesday afternoon.
Results see-sawed over the course of Tuesday night, with the advantage teetering between the candidates depending on what percentage of the vote had been reported and when various states count their vote-by-mail ballots, which tend to skew towards the Democrats.
States that appear as though they could decide the election include Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, a situation familiar to anyone who followed the race four years ago that first put Trump in the White House.
Wisconsin and Michigan are now believed to be in the bag for Biden. Trump’s campaign has said it is considering challenging the count of swing states in the courts.
Because of the historic number of vote-by-mail ballots and complicated state rules that limit when early votes can start to be tallied, counts for these close states have continued into Wednesday. Local election officials are saying they expect to have a better sense of results by the end of today or tomorrow morning.
Biden was confident his campaign would win while speaking to supporters at a drive-in rally in Wilmington, Delaware in the early hours of Wednesday morning on the East Coast: “Look, we feel good about where we are. We really do!”
Meanwhile Trump prematurely declared victory at a White House press conference, saying “as far as I’m concerned, we’ve already won.” Then, he expressed his willingness to go as far as the Supreme Court to stop states from counting outstanding votes that have yet to be tallied in order to more quickly declare a winner.
Now, the game of wait-and-see continues.
“We’re disappointed it’s not a clear repudiation of Trump and his policies,” said Cynthia Crews-Pollock, a spokesperson for the League of Pissed Off Voters. “We feel like local wins — allowing non-citizens to serve on commissions, taxing big businesses, moving forward on police reform — are some things to be excited about.”
This story was updated Wednesday with additional comment and information.