Bob Nguyen of the Registrar of Voters collects mail-in ballots from voters dropping off their ballots in the parking lot at the Santa Clara County
Bob Nguyen of the Registrar of Voters collects mail-in ballots from voters dropping off their ballots in the parking lot at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. A low turn out is expected in this Primary Election. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )

Bay Area residents going to the polls Tuesday face weighty choices from the top-of-the-ticket governor's race to local measures on taxes and development -- that is for the few who show up.

Predictions of record-low turnout coupled with the growing number of voters who cast ballots by mail should make for short lines and long lulls for most of the Bay Area's poll workers.

Santa Clara County for instance expects about 80 percent of ballots to be mailed, said Matt Moreles, the county's assistant voter registrar. Contra Costa County Registrar Joe Canciamilla agreed with the 80 percent estimate, and Alameda County Registrar Tim Depuis guessed that no more than 25 to 30 percent of his county's registered voters will cast ballots in this election whether by mail or in person.

But the high ratio of mailed ballots won't affect counties' need to staff polling places.

State law dictates that whether it's a tiny-turnout special election or a huge-turnout presidential election, and no matter how many people vote by mail, "you've got to set up the same number of precincts, the same number of machines, the same number of workers -- it's a ridiculously expensive process ... but that's what we have to do," said Canciamilla, a former assemblyman. "I guess you'd have to talk to my former colleagues in the Legislature about that."

This is the first time California's statewide elections will be decided using the new top-two primary system, in which all voters can choose from among all candidates regardless of party affiliations. The two candidates with the most votes will advance to November's general election.


Advertisement

At the top of the state races, Republicans Neel Kashkari, a former Treasury Department official, and Tim Donnelly, an assemblyman and tea party favorite, are vying to finish in the top two with Gov. Jerry Brown, and so go one-on-one with him in November. Polls show their primary battle could be a nail-biter, though there's little chance Brown could lose the general election.

With Democrats now holding every statewide office and a healthy majority in both houses of the Legislature, pundits will closely watch the two statewide races in which Republican contenders might have a real chance. One is the state controller election, where Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is the GOP alternative to either Assembly Speaker John Perez or Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, both Democrats.

The other is the secretary of state race, where Republican Pete Peterson and state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, are the likely leaders in a field of seven candidates. Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, appears on the ballot but dropped out of this race after being indicted on charges of taking bribes and brokering an international arms deal.

The Bay Area's hottest races include the 17th Congressional District, in which seven-term Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, is challenged by fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official backed by many Silicon Valley executives in a battle that has made national headlines. Republicans Vanila Singh and Joel Van Landingham also are in the race to represent the first House district outside of Hawaii to have an Asian-American majority.

In San Jose, Councilman Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese seem to be leading the pack to succeed termed-out Mayor Chuck Reed. Also in the race are Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and council members Rose Herrera and Pierluigi Oliverio.

The mudslinging has grown bog-deep in the 10th State Senate District, where Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, called attention to Democratic rival Mary Hayashi's 2012 shoplifting conviction while Hayashi accused Wieckowski of "protecting rapists" with a 2012 committee vote. Their blizzard of attack mailers sucked the oxygen from the campaigns of three other candidates: Democrat Roman Reed, Republican Peter Kuo and independent Audie Bock.

Things also grew nasty in the East Bay's 16th Assembly District, where Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti and Orinda Councilman Steve Glazer -- both Democrats -- clashed over BART strikes, campaign ethics complaints, ties to unions, tobacco companies, big oil and whatever other faults they could find with each other. Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich is a third Democrat here, but it seems either Sbranti or Glazer will finish in the top two for a November contest with the lone Republican, Dublin attorney Catharine Baker.

Open Assembly seats around the Bay Area include the 15th District in the Oakland-Berkeley area, where five Democrats, a Republican, a Peace and Freedom candidate and an independent are battling; the 25th District in the Fremont-San Jose area, with four Democrats and a Republican; and the 28th District in the Cupertino-Saratoga area, with two Democrats and two Republicans.

Other notable races include the 15th Congressional District, where Democratic state Senator Ellen Corbett, of Hayward, is trying to oust Democratic first-term Rep. Eric Swalwell, of Dublin, who also has a Republican challenger, Hugh Bussell, of Livermore. In the 11th Congressional District, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, leads the pack to succeed Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who is retiring.

Among Bay Area ballot measures, Alameda County voters will decide whether to continue a sales tax that helps fund the county's health care safety net. Measure AA would extend the existing half-cent sales tax -- which raises $100 million a year -- from its current 2019 expiration to a new sunset date of 2034.

Voters in the West Contra Costa Unified School District will decide on Measure H, to raise $270 million in bonds for school construction — the seventh time the district has sought bond approval in 17 years and potentially driving higher what already are the county's highest property taxes.

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

election day
What you need to know about voting today
Polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday; by law, you can vote if you're in the polling place line polling by 8 p.m.
If you have not yet mailed your vote-by-mail ballot, DON'T -- it will arrive too late to be counted. Leave it Tuesday at any polling place in your county. You can authorize a relative or any person living in your home to return your ballot, but follow the instructions for signing the return envelope.
Information on voting and polling places available at: Alameda County, 510-267-8683; Contra Costa County, 925-335-7871; Santa Clara County, 866-430-VOTE; San Mateo County, 650-312-5222.