Three months after Gov. Jerry Brown announced a special election in the 31st Assembly District, voters on Tuesday will go to the polls to select a replacement for Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea.
But it is nowhere near the end of the story.
Perea set the wheels of Tuesday’s election in motion when he resigned his Assembly seat a year early to take a job with the pharmaceutical industry. That prompted the need for the special election to fill the remainder of his term, which will end in December. The cost to Fresno County taxpayers to put on the election: $500,000.
Three hopefuls are contending in what has been a contentious campaign: Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, an emergency room physician; Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller, an engineer; and Republican Clint Olivier, a Fresno councilman and former television journalist.
As with most special elections, the winner likely will be the one best able to motivate his supporters to participate in an election in early April with nothing else on the ballot.
31ST ASSEMBLY DISTRICT VOTER REGISTRATION Democrat: 47.2% Republican: 28.52% No Party Preference: 19.87% Source: Fresno County elections
The election has been both high-profile and expensive as Republicans see it as a chance to steal away a district that has been in Democratic hands for four decades, and Democrats see it as solidly in their column. They also don’t want new Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to suffer a humiliating defeat just as he starts his tenure. Currently, 47.2 percent of voters are Democrats, 28.5 percent Republican and 19.9 percent are registered with no political party.
Already, more than 12 percent of voters have cast mail ballots. That number will increase this week, but Tuesday is the actual day polling stations are open. Fresno County will have 104 polling locations for 188 voting precincts, according to Clerk Brandi Orth.
“We have recruited, trained and deployed 500 precinct officers to assist voters,” she says.
Still, voters may have questions.
Orth says all eligible voters in the district have been mailed a sample ballot with their polling location printed on the back side.
We have recruited, trained and deployed 500 precinct officers to assist voters.
Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth
The elections office also has a telephone help line: 559-600-VOTE (599-600-8683).
Voters also can enter “Fresno County Elections” in Google to find the county’s election website. After calling up the site, there is a prominent “Fresno County Votes,” with the “votes” letters in red. People can click on that area and enter specific information to see if they are eligible to vote. If so, it will show their polling place location, along with a copy of the sample ballot, Orth says. This will also work on mobile devices.
Also on the website is the location of seven sites where residents can drop off mail ballots. Orth says voters should put their mail ballot in the purple return envelope; the drop-off doesn’t even require a person to exit the car.
Though television and radio commercials for the candidates have been broadcast far and wide, the actual district is fairly compact: Broadly defined, it takes in the western half of Fresno County and a good chunk of its southern portion. That means voters in Coalinga, Firebaugh, Mendota, Huron, Kerman, Kingsburg, Selma, Fowler, Parlier, Reedley, San Joaquin and points in between are eligible to vote. But the 31st District also pokes around in some unexpected areas, going far enough east to include Orange Cove and far enough north to pick up Sanger.
It also includes about half the city of Fresno, roughly south of Shields Avenue and west of Highway 99, south of Belmont Avenue.
Residents of these areas are no doubt aware they are in the district because they have been, at least if they are registered voters, inundated with campaign mailers and probably a knock at the door from a precinct walker.
Arambula has raised more than $930,000 for the special election, including more than $405,000 from the state Democratic Party. Olivier has raised close to $500,000, with the state Republican Party chipping in more than $254,000 of that total. In addition, 10 different independent groups had spent more than $700,000 to help Arambula.
For all that, Tuesday is just the start of a long year for 31st Assembly District voters. If none of the three candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will move on to a June 7 runoff.
If there is a runoff, that will cost Fresno County taxpayers between $75,000 and $100,000 – in addition to the $500,000 for Tuesday’s election. Whether the winner is decided Tuesday or in June, that person will only serve in the seat until December.
There also will be a June primary between the same three contenders for a full two-year Assembly term. The top two finishers in that race will move on to a November runoff.
In the most confusing scenario, if there is a June runoff in the special election, it will coincide with the primary for the general election. That means 31st Assembly District voters would cast two separate ballots for the race.
Orth says election results will be posted to the Fresno County Elections website Tuesday night as the returns come in. The initial update will come at 8:04 p.m., which will include all the vote-by-mail ballots that have been received and processed.
Special Election 31st Assembly District
Election Day: April 5
Contact: 600-VOTE (600-8683)
Election Day: June 7
Last day to register: May 23
Information: Secretary of State’s webpage, fblinks.com/SOS