Although predictions that the Democrat blue wave would founder lasted through the early hours of poll results on Election Day, the extent of the wave has been growing in recent weeks as close races have been decided across the country. With the news that Republican David Valadao has been defeated in California’s 21st congressional district, the Republican losses in the House have reached a total of 40 seats.
The win in CA-21 by Democrat TJ Cox brings the total number of California congressional seats flipped by Democrats to seven. This includes four seats in Orange County, which was a Republican stronghold in the past but became a totally Democrat county in 2018.
As with several other California Republicans, Valadao, who has represented his district since 2013, held a lead on Election night and was initially projected to be the winner. However, absentee ballots arriving after Election Day eroded their lead and eventually flipped the seats to the Democrats. On Nov. 6, Valadao led by 5,000 votes but ultimately lost by 862 votes, less than one percent of the total.
Some Republicans have speculated that fraudulent votes have changed the course of races in California, but so far there is no evidence of wrongdoing. California law requires absentee voters to register seven days before the election and mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received within three days of the election. However, vote counting in California can take longer because California accepts ballots that could be rejected in other states. California law requires counties to notify voters of mistakes, such as missing signatures, that would otherwise invalidate a ballot and gives voters time to correct them. Ballots that were sent to the wrong county are also required to be forwarded to correct location.
Some Republicans also blame a new California law that allows “ballot harvesting.” Effective this year, California allows anyone to return signed and sealed absentee ballots to the local election officials. Previously, only relatives could turn in ballots for absentee voters. The law expressly prohibits paying vote collectors for the number of ballots that they turn in but is silent on whether they can receive an hourly wage for their efforts. While the new law may have led to an increase in the number of absentee votes, the law did not favor Democrats over Republicans except in the ability to find volunteers to collect ballots.
The outgoing chairman of the California Republican Party, former state Sen. Jim Brulte, rejected the notion that voting irregularities led to the Republican rout in the Golden State. Brulte told Politico that Republican candidates were warned about changes to California election laws and failed to take appropriate action.
“We personally briefed the candidates, the congressional delegation, the legislators,” Brulte said, but added, “We’ve not been able to find Republicans having a lot of success anywhere related to ballot harvesting.”
Brulte has other concerns about California as well, warning that, “I believe California is the canary in the coal mine — not an outlier.”
In Brulte’s view, the core problem for California Republicans was that “We have not yet been able to figure out how to effectively communicate and get significant numbers of votes from non-whites.”
Brulte pointed out that demographic trends indicate that “the entire country will be majority minority by 2044” and Republicans have failed to appeal to those new voters. Exit polling shows that the Republican base is becoming increasingly white, male, and rural. These changes mean that Republican candidates must “figure out how we get votes from people who don’t look like you,” Brulte says. The problem is pronounced in California but may soon affect such Republican strongholds as Texas, Florida, and Georgia where Republicans won extremely close races this year.
At this point, there is only one undecided House race left. In North Carolina’s 19th district, Republican activists are accused of illegal ballot harvesting that is similar to what is now legal in California. The allegations of electoral fraud in North Carolina could lead to a new election in that district where Republican Mark Harris eked out a 905 vote win over Democrat Dan McCready.