Did Ballot Weirdness Lead to Upset Election Win in the Assembly?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Raul Bocanegra

How could Patty Lopez possibly have defeated the incumbent, potential Democratic superstar Raul Bocanegra, for an Assembly seat out of Los Angeles County? Afterall, even a friend described her to the Los Angeles Times as “a candidate that had no political endorsements. She had no credibility, no recognition—she didn't have any funding.”  

There were no Bocanegra scandals. Was it charisma? Karma? Those fund-raising tamale fests to promote Lopez’s strong feelings about protecting adult-education programs?

Some people are suspicious of the ballot in the 39th District.

Lopez and Bocanegra are both Democrats. California’s new top-two primaries make it possible for two members of the same party to square off in the final election. Bocanegra won the June 3 primary by more than 40 points over Lopez. He didn’t spend a lot of money on his campaign because, according to LA Weekly, the possible future Assembly Speaker was sharing the $1 million he raised with less-fortunate fellow Dems.  

Their race was listed at the bottom of Page 2 of the November 4 ballot, beneath five other races pitting a Republican against a Democrat. Although there is apparently no rule concerning the order of the candidates, the Democrat in all five races was listed first.

In the sixth race, Lopez was listed above Bocanegra in the spot that might have been mistaken by an inattentive party-line voter for “the” Democrat.   

Political operative Paul Mitchell was the go-to guy—here, here and here —for a media quote further advancing the theory that voters are easily misled. He told LA Weekly, “I think a good number of them were confused. This result, while it’s a valid election result, isn’t exactly representative of what would been the informed voter intent.”

Earlier in the year, Mitchell started a website, “AIPrl Fooled,” to inform American Independent Party (AIP) members that they probably registered with the group by mistake, thinking they were declaring as Independents. AIP carries the banner of now-deceased 1960's Alabama segregationist governor and presidential candidate George Wallace and is California’s third-largest political party with 472,833 registered voters, four times as many as either the Greens or Libertarians.

Accidents happen, as do unintended consequences. California voters replaced the traditional two-party election format with open primaries in June 2010 when 54% of them approved Proposition 14. The tinkering was meant to move the candidates closer to the middle, leaving them less strident about party ideology and more amenable to compromise and bipartisan cooperation. 

The jury is still out on whether the voters got that reworking of the Democratic process right and whether it derailed the political career of a promising 46-year-old Democrat.  Bocanegra, an incumbent in a poisonous political atmosphere, has his political enemies, not the least of whom is former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon.

Bocanegra defeated Alarcon for the 39th District seat in November 2012 and then testified against him at Alarcon’s trial for felony perjury and voter fraud from a previous election. Alarcon was found guilty. Bocanegra once worked for Alarcon but the two found themselves aligned with different political factions. Alarcon is advising Lopez.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Is This Ballot Responsible for Patty Lopez's Bizarre Upset over Raul Bocanegra? (by Hillel Aron, LA Weekly)

Bocanegra Concedes in Shocker San Fernando Valley Assembly Race (by Frank Stoltze, KPCC)

Incumbent Democrats Lose in 2 Close California Assembly Races (by Judy Lin, Associated Press)

Ballot Order Scrutinized in 39th Assembly District Race (by Jeremy B. White, Sacramento Bee)

Neophyte Patty Lopez Takes Raul Bocanegra's California Assembly Seat (by Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times)

Are Independent California Voters Accidentally Registering in the Party of George Wallace? (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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