All Eyes on San Mateo County, as Low Held Brief Lead over Simitian in 16th District

This report was updated at March 15.

Assemblymember Evan Low on Thursday hung on to a slim lead over Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian for a runoff spot in the 16th congressional district, leading by just 63 votes.

As the ballot counting heads towards the finish line Friday, geography was tilting the odds back towards Simitian, whose lead over Low in San Mateo County nearly matches Low's lead in Santa Clara County. B Friday, those San Mateo votes would shift the advantage to Simitian, by 44 votes.

But because San Mateo County last reported results on Wednesday, March 13, more than 20,000 mailed ballots remained in its “unprocessed” category tonight. In Santa Clara County, which has 80% of the 16th District's votes, just 3,000 ballots remain to be processed.

If Simitian holds his portion of San Mateo votes at 17%, and Low's 13.5% portion in the county doesn't change, the neck-and-neck race for the second spot on the November ballot, with former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, could be Simitian's.

San Mateo election officials said the latest results would be reported at 4:30pm Friday. Santa Clara numbers are to be posted by 5pm.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian. Image via Los Altos Rotary

Wednesday's ballot counts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties resulted in a 221-turnaround for Low, after Simitian had led throughout the first week since the March 5 Primary Election by as many as 1,500 votes.

Each day of counting since Saturday  brought Low a little closer to the second position on the November ballot.

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo's solid lead over the the field held steady at Wednesday's 4:25pm count, with 37,473 votes, about 21% of the ballots cast in the high profile primary contest. When county election officials announced the March 13 totals, Low, with 29,431 votes, had passed Simitian by 59 votes.

In Santa Clara County, where Simitian is a county supervisor and which is home to 80%  of the 16th District voters, Low pulled nearly 1,300 votes past Simitian. Low's March 14 two-county total was 29,440; Simitian's two-county total was 29,377.

A stack of 11 candidates – nine Democrats and two Republicans – sought to represent Congress for about half of the City of San Jose, its western suburbs and the heart of Silicon Valley. The district includes sections of southern San Mateo County and northern and western Santa Clara counties.

The vote totals are incomplete, partial and unofficial returns from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters , the San Mateo County Elections Office  and the California Secretary of State.

The 16th District seat was left without an incumbent with the November announcement by Rep. Anna Eshoo that she would not seek re-election after 30 years in the House. Eshoo later endorsed Simitian as her successor.

In the “top-two" open primary, voters of any or no party affiliation could vote for any candidate, and the top two vote-getters advance to runoff election in November.

County election workers are counting ballots received past the March 12 deadline for ballots postmarked by March 5. More than 90% of votes were cast by mail over the past month. Santa Clara County posts updates each day at 5pm. San Mateo County post its updates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4:30pm.

The county Registrar of Voters office in San Jose reported what was expected to emerge as a low turnout for a presidential election year, with an estimated 37% of registered voters casting ballots.

Liccardo, 53, served two terms as San Jose mayor and two-terms as a council member following a stint as a prosecutor in the county District Attorney’s Office. The Georgetown and Harvard Law School grad grew up in Saratoga, and in San Jose near his grandfather’s grocery store. Considered a moderate with strong ties to Silicon Valley tech and real estate firms, he led the city during its growth as a tech center, championed a high-speed rail link and BART extension into San Jose and gained national recognition for the city’s attempt to require gun owners to have liability insurance.

Low, 40, an openly gay progressive with strong organized labor support, has served in the Assembly since his first election in 2014. He is a former mayor and council member in Campbell, and is considered a rising next-generation star in the Democratic Party. He also is chair of the California Asian American & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and a Member of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Simitian, 71, is in the final year of his third term as a Santa Clara County supervisor. The former Palo Alto council member served in the California legislature as an Assembly member and state senator. He led efforts in the county and state to build affordable housing, increase environmental protections and boost mental health services. He led early with endorsements from many local elected officials – highlighted by a cherished endorsement from Eshoo –, and was considered a moderate Democrat.

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. Not voting for Liccardo.
    He’s all talk and no action. San Jose deteriorated under his watch. The downtown became a veritable ghost town with the exception of hordes of homeless. Thankfully we have Mayor Mahan now trying hard to undo the damage Liccardo allowed to happen.

  2. Liccardo and Mahan are carbon copies. Same donors, same policies, both came from elite families with multiple generations of attendance at Bellarmine Prep where tuition costs $40,000 a year. Liccardo even endorsed Mahan to be his successor. Biggest difference is Liccardo had a real resume as a US attorney and assistant DA prior to becoming a politician, Mahan was a “tech entrepreneur” who started a bizarre failed social media platform and then presented that as his main resume item.

  3. Both counties need to report by April 4, so the result will be known then. Does the lead county report the total result? Or do reporters need to check both counties? Waiting until April 12 for the Secretary of State seems like a mere formality.

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