Results are being closely-watched in a Fresno County-area congressional race that could impact the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As of Thursday, Democratic incumbent TJ Cox is trailing Republican challenger David Valadao by 3,033 votes in the Valley’s 21st Congressional District race. It’s one of numerous undecided contests across the country that will determine whether — and by how much — the Democratic majority in the House will shrink, as some are expecting.
Republicans have already flipped back several seats that Democrats won in the 2018 midterm elections, giving them the majority. Democrats had hoped to expand their House margin this year, but now are at risk of losing more seats than they gain.
The current results in the Cox – Valadao rematch appears to be following the pattern from 2018. After election night, then Congressman Valadao led by roughly 4,500 votes, but Cox ultimately won the seat by 862 votes.
The latest vote total releases from any of the four counties that comprise the congressional came Wednesday morning.
The majority of as-yet uncounted votes in the Cox – Valadao race appear to be from Kern County, where 42% of the district’s voters reside. Registrar of Voters Mary Bedard tells GV Wire℠ that the next Kern County update will come on Monday.
The totals thus far, through Thursday morning:
Cox, Valadao Waiting
Based on his experience two years ago, Cox expected the wait.
“We’ve been through this before. In 2018, my race wasn’t settled for 30 days. And in 2020, we’re in much the same situation. We owe it to the Valley to get this right, ensure each and every vote is counted, no matter who wins. I’m urging the Central Valley to take a pause, so every voice can be heard,” Cox said.
Valadao’s campaign had declined to comment for this story, but said on election night that voters “deserve to have their votes counted fairly and accurately. We have faith in our local election officials to do that.”
Fresno County has the second-largest share of voters in the 21st District, at 32%. It will release new figures on Friday afternoon by 3 p.m. Kings and Tulare counties did not provide a specific time for the release of updated vote counts.
There are an estimated 14,000 ballots left to count from Fresno County and 3,000 in Kings County. Tulare County did not have an estimate. It would likely be the smallest vote total since it represents only 3% of the district.
Kern County: 90,000 More Votes to Count
Bedard says Kern County has up to 90,000 mail-in and provisional ballots left to count. So far, the county has posted results from regular in-person voting and mail-in votes through last Friday.
She is unsure how many of those ballots are from voters in the 21st Congressional District.
Based on the volume of votes posted so far, there are plenty left to count compared to 2018.
Two years ago, more than 39,000 voters cast ballots in the first round of the Cox-Valadao race. Only 27,000 have recorded votes in Kern County based on preliminary numbers.
In 2018, Cox won Kern County by early 9,000 votes, carrying him to victory. Right now, he is up by more than 6,000 votes.
Count Slowed by Provisional Ballots
One reason Kern County’s reporting has been different than Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties is the requirement to surrender mail-in ballots if a voter decided to vote in person.
“However, because our poll workers had no way of knowing if voters had already voted their mail ballot, voters had to surrender their mail ballot at the polls in order to vote regularly. Otherwise, they had to vote provisionally,” Bedard said. “Because of this, we have a very large number of provisional ballots.”
It generally takes election workers more time to process a provisional ballot.
The California Secretary of State guidelines call for surrendering of ballots if election officials cannot verify if the ballot hasn’t already been mailed in or will be mailed in later.
Bedard said they do not have a system in place at polling sites.
Not every county required surrendering of ballots. In Fresno County, poll workers could check computer databases during check-in to determine if a mail-in ballot was already sent.
“Since we can do that, the voter doesn’t have to surrender their ballot. Because if the system doesn’t show that they have already voted, when a ballot is issued at a vote center the computer system automatically “voids or cancels” the ballot that was mailed to them. Therefore voter only has one issued ballot, which they can vote,” Fresno County Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth said.