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The Defeat Expands

They’re still counting. And with each successive updating of the results in this November’s special election, the magnitude of Arnold’s defeat only increases.With roughly 40 percent of California voters opting for absentee ballots, and about one-third of those handing their ballots in on Election Day, that means that one million ballots (out of 7.5 million cast in this election) came in with signatures that have had to be verified since November 8. Moreover, with so many precincts consolidated in this special election, requiring so many voters to schlep to uncustomary polling places, the number of provisional ballots was high as well.So the numbers keep coming in, and factoring in the late returns, the results are quietly astounding. The biggest story is turnout. In each of the other two special elections (that is, elections featuring ballot measures but no candidates) in California over the past two decades, turnout was roughly 37 percent. Schwarzenegger’s consultants assumed that this time around, inasmuch as turnout has been steadily declining in state and out over the past four decades, they could count on 36 percent of voters actually bothering to participate. The consultants for the unions who ran the campaigns against Schwarzenegger’s measures figured that they had to boost turnout at least to 41 percent. In the days before the election, the office of Secretary of State Bruce McPherson figured that perhaps 42 percent of voters would cast ballots, and that was the figure most commonly cited on Election Day itself.And they were all wrong. As the count proceeded this past weekend, the percentage of California voters who cast ballots was up to 47.3 percent. When the count’s all done — the county registrars have to wrap it up by December 8 — that figure may be close to 48 percent, 11 points higher than each of the two preceding specials.And the numbers are even more remarkable when broken down by county. As of this past Sunday, turnout in heavily Republican Orange County (which supported Arnold’s measures at a rate higher than any other county in the state) stood at 43 percent, while in Democratic L.A. County, it was 45.4 percent. I cannot recall an election — much less a low-turnout special election such as this one — in which the voting rate in whiter, richer Orange County was lower than that in more polyglot and working-class L.A., but this time around, it surely was.That’s a testament, of course, to Republicans’ demoralization over the way things are going, and they’ve got a lot to be demoralized about. But it’s not only that. It’s also a testament to the scope and efficacy of the campaign the unions ran to pull their voters — and not just union members, but black, Latino and progressive voters more generally — to the polls. In L.A. County, not only was the turnout surprisingly high, but the margins against Arnold’s measures were huge. As of this weekend, Proposition 74, extending the probationary period for teachers, was losing by 22.8 percent among L.A. County voters; Proposition 75, curtailing unions’ ability to wage election campaigns, was trailing by 23.2 percent; Proposition 76, limiting funding on schools and giving the governor unilateral power to cut spending, was down by 35.6 percent; and Proposition 77, establishing a mid-decade reapportionment, was behind by 32 percent.Those numbers tell us something about a few of the city’s most powerful institutions. They tell us that the political operation of the L.A. County Federation of Labor that Miguel Contreras created is in good hands under his successor, Martin Ludlow. They tell us, too, that the new editorial policy of the Los Angeles Times has abruptly moved the paper well to the right of its city. Under the leadership of new publisher Jeff Johnson and new editorial editor Andrés Martinez, the Times endorsed three of Arnold’s four measures — Props. 74, 75 and 77. Clearly, those positions carried a lot of weight in Newport Beach, but not in the Times’ core readership area.As if to confirm their lack of familiarity with the politics of Los Angeles and California, the Times’ newcomers followed up the election with an editorial suggesting that since the vote on union-busting Prop. 75 was so close, voters or the legislature might want to take it up again after the requisite decent interval. In fact, the vote wasn’t that close: The measure lost statewide by 46.4 percent to 53.6 percent, a margin of 7.2 points. Secondly, state voters already were taking it up again. In 1998, Californians were presented with Proposition 226, a measure identical to this year’s Prop. 75 save only that 226 covered all union members, and 75 pertained just to members of public-employee unions. Backed by the same right-wing zealots who were behind this year’s Prop. 75, Prop. 226 lost by 6.6 percent, meaning that labor increased its victory margin by 0.6 percent this year over its margin in 1998. Run the same measure twice, get the same damn result. Why the Times thinks the state needs to go through this yet again is a mystery the paper has not adequately explained.