Ammar Campa-Najjar, 29, hopes to unseat incumbent Duncan D. Hunter in the 50th Congressional District.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, shown at a recent Escondido rally, hopes uncounted votes from that city and San Marcos will elevate him to Congress. Photo by Chris Stone

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar says his losing congressional race against indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter was full of surprises, so he’s hoping for yet another — a victory.

He thinks uncounted ballots in San Diego and Riverside counties could flip the 50th District in his favor — despite trailing by 8.6 percentage points.

“Election officials in San Diego and Riverside counties are reporting that there are over 490,000 and 250,000 ballots in their possession that have yet to be reported, respectively,” a spokesman for Campa-Najjar noted Thursday.

Hunter won by 13,135 votes, according to final unofficial precinct counts from the two counties. In San Diego County, Campa-Najjar lost by 7.8 points, or 10,888 votes.

But it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 740,000 uncounted ballots — including mail-in and provisional — were in the 50th Congressional District.

Thursday afternoon, county Registrar of Voters Michael Vu told Times of San Diego that his office couldn’t provide a count of 50th District ballots still to be processed.

To get that figure, he said, “would mean we would need to stop all of the activities associated with processing [all] ballots.”

Among the office’s chores are verifying ballot signatures, taking ballots out of envelopes and having them scanned for Thursday night’s count. 

“There is also those ballots that will be added as a result of mail ballots that are postmarked and received within three days of election day (statutory requirement),” Vu said.  “These are but a few of the ongoing activities that are occurring as we move to certify the election by December 6.”

In a statement, Campa-Najjar said he had no regrets.

“In fact, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said Thursday. “This election has been full of surprises — perhaps one last surprise still remains.”

He said it’s important to count every vote.

“The integrity of our elections [is] paramount,” he said, “so we’re going to respect the process and allow it to continue.”

Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison concurred: “Every vote should be counted.”

However, the GOP congressman’s local chief of staff added: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to prognosticate. Congressman Hunter received a significant number of media requests on Tuesday evening after the race had been called by national and local media outlets.”

Harrison said that Hunter’s campaign confirmed with the California Secretary of State’s Office that all precincts had reported before issuing a statement Wednesday.

“If [the] San Diego County Registrar of Voters indicates that they are still counting votes, then Congressman Hunter supports efforts to ensure that every vote is counted,” he said.

Nick Singer, the Campa-Najjar spokesman, quoted a San Diego Union-Tribune report that said it’s possible as many as 15,000 Escondido ballots remain uncounted.

Inewsource map showing blue precincts that favored Campa-Najjar and red favoring Hunter.

“Escondido has been a major focus of our campaign,” Singer said. “It’s home to nearly a third of all CA50 voters, where Democrat Consuelo Martinez won her City Council race and Democrat Paul McNamara’s race for mayor is still too close call.”

Same for San Marcos, which he called “another epicenter of voters who sway our way.”

Singer said City Council candidate Maria Nunez owns a slight lead against her Republican rival with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots yet to be reported.

According to the latest registration report, Escondido has about 68,000 voters — nearly evenly split between the parties (as well as 20,000 who don’t declare an affiliation). San Marcos has about 45,500 — with 14,621 Democrats, 14,653 Republicans and 13,709 independents.

If the voter turnout there matched the 65 percent of the county, as officials suggest, and 70 percent vote by mail, close to 52,000 mail-in ballots were used in those two cities. But it isn’t known how many are still to be tallied.

“We will respect the will of the voters,” Singer said. “But right now, we need to let our democratic process play out and allow election officials time to count the large number of remaining ballots – every voter deserves to have their voice heard.”

San Diego County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jessica Hayes was hopeful as well.

Hayes said she assumed that San Diego County’s nearly half-million late-counted ballots are spread throughout the region.

“But if it follows past elections,” she said, “larger numbers of uncounted ballots had been clustered in districts with competitive races. Also, Democratic voters tend to be late voters and provisional ballot voters. Ammar certainly inspired a lot of people to vote who normally do not, so anything is possible.”

Updated at 6:45 p.m. Nov. 8, 2018