Six days before the Primary Election, the LA Times published an article on the thorny topic of ballot designations - “Campaigning for a judge's seat? A sexier title could get you elected — or sued.” The article addressed one of the less seemly aspects of the ballot title bonanza; that some who aspire to be judges, a position that surely demands the epitome of honesty, integrity and candor, may be attempting to mislead voters with their ballot titles.
#1 Violent Crimes Prosecutor 562,995 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Debra Archuleta and David Berger clearly had the voters’ attention with a time-proven ballot title which garnered a total 1,125,989 votes - the only ballot title to score above a million votes. The popularity of this ballot title is likely a result of voter concern about the staggering increase in violent crime in the past 2 years. Vastly eclipsing the more crime-specific ballot titles like “Child Molestation Prosecutor” and “Gang Homicide Prosecutor,” it is probable that voters see themselves more likely to be victims of generic crimes of violence than specific crimes involving gang members and sex offenders.
#2 Criminal Fraud Prosecutor 531,349 votes
Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend’s ballot title’s second place may also signal that voters are more concerned about the kind of crime that potentially could affect them directly. In a world where there are few who have not experienced some kind of fraud, such as identity theft and credit card fraud, voters perhaps saw this ballot title as more worthy of their support than the “specific crimes” candidates in this race.
#3 Domestic Violence Attorney 488,289 votes
Immigration law attorney Alicia Molina shocked experts by emerging in first place in the hard fought battle for Office No. 42. It is highly likely that voters viewed Molina as a prosecutor given the first two words of her title, much in the same way that Andrew Stein achieved success in the 2014 primary using “Gang Homicide Attorney.” Stein subsequently lost the runoff when his ballot title was challenged ahead of the runoff. Molina’s runoff opponent, Efrain Aceves (see #5 below) did not challenge Molina’s creative use of this ballot title in the primary election, however, he may well do so now.
#4 Supervising Criminal Prosecutor 455,403 votes
Deputy District Attorney Javier Perez may be thanking his lucky stars that he was forced to use this ballot title after a court ruled that he could not use “Supervising Gang Prosecutor.” Gang-related ballot titles appear to have lost much of their former potency (see #6 below) and while Perez’s supervisory ballot title left him with a shot at the runoff, it does not have much of a track record. In 2014 it did not serve well; the Hon. Judge Songhai “Sunny” Miguda-Armstead, then a Deputy City Attorney ran using that ballot title, but lost the election. She did, however, succeed in capturing Governor Brown’s attention and was appointed to the bench in 2015.
#5 Child Molestation Prosecutor 355,716 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Efrain Aceves and Fred Mesropi were likely as stunned as the rest of the experts when what was once considered the Holy Grail of ballot titles spectacularly failed to perform on election night. The title that handily carried the Hon. Judge Carole Rose into office in 2014, couldn't get the vote up in 2016, leaving Aceves in second place to Molina in Office No. 42, and eliminating Mesropi altogether in Office No. 158. In both cases it appears that voters felt a greater connection to more generic forms of crimes of violence.
#6 Gang Homicide Prosecutor 293,233 votes
Deputy District Attorneys Steven Schreiner, Paul Kim and Hubert Yun all ran with either "Gang Homicide Prosecutor" or "Gang Murder Prosecutor." Another sacred cow of ballot titles, so highly prized that it even prompted Kim to challenge Schreiner’s use of the title, resulting in a head-scratching ruling that Schreiner could not run as a Gang Murder Prosecutor, but he could run as a Gang Homicide Prosecutor - a Pyrrhic victory for Kim if ever there was one. When the votes were counted, it mattered little to voters.
In Office No. 11, where last minute entrant Kim undoubtedly split the vote between himself and Schreiner, Kim lost to Scheiner and was eliminated from the race. Tellingly, their combined vote of 40.97% was eclipsed by rival Archuleta’s staggering 47.33%. In Office No. 84, Yun’s late entry fared no better than Kim’s and left him a distant third placed loser.
Opinions differ as to why gang-related ballot tittles appear to be suffering the most from electile dysfunction. Part of the reason may be that Kim and Yun were both late entrants, lacked effective campaigns, and appeared to be substantially relying on the potency of their ballot titles. However, the same cannot be said of Schreiner, who did mount a well funded campaign long before Kim and Yun likely even thought about running.
Another possible reason for gang-related ballot titles’ flaccid performance in this election cycle may be due to voters perception that gang crimes have been overshadowed by violent crime in general, and that voters now seem themselves most at risk from generic violent and fraudulent crime.
#7 Prosecutor 118,619 votes
Deputy City Attorney Onica Valle Cole’s decision to use the single word “Prosecutor” rather than using her job title netted her last place in the race for Office No. 158. Cole may well have fared better had she used her job title, as “Prosecutor,” without any reference to the kind of crimes prosecuted, may have been too generic and failed to wow. Cole may be hoping that her candidacy nevertheless attracts the attention of the Governor with a view to an appointment.
Whether the potency, or lack thereof, of certain ballot titles carries through to the November 8, 2016 runoff, is far from certain. The runoff will be a different election and many expect a higher voter turnout. A high voter turnout may well be the cure for electile dysfunction as a greater proportion of the electorate will not have received the slate mailers that influence high-propensity voters, and cast their ballots based solely on the candidate's name and ballot title.
As for the 'job title' ballot designations, unsurprisingly "Superior Court Judge" topped the list with an overall vote of 1,066,068, "Deputy Attorney General" came in second at 515,020, "Superior Court Commissioner" was third at 405,233, and varied permutations of "Attorney" came in last at 230,819.
In the interests of full disclosure, the Los Angeles Dragnet is edited
by David Berger, candidate for Superior Court Judge, Office No. 158. Any and all opinions expressed here are personal and
are not reflective of any opinion, position or view of the Los Angeles County District