Trump Says Democrats Are Trying to 'Rig' A California Special Election—Here's What's Going On

Christy Smith Mike Garcia election
People vote at an early voting station for the special election between Democratic state assembly woman Christy Smith and Republican businessman and ex-Navy pilot Mike Garcia to replace former Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill in the state's 25th Congressional District, in Lancaster, California on May 10, 2020. Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

Republicans could flip California's 25th district Tuesday in what would be a surprising upset for former Representative Katie Hill's seat, and it would come on the heels of President Donald Trump calling the election "rigged" because he was upset about a new voting center in the Democratic-leaning district.

In his tweets Saturday, Trump said California Governor Gavin Newsom won't let restaurants, beaches and stores open, "but he installs a voting both system in a highly Democrat area (supposed to be mail in ballots only) because our great candidate, @MikeGarcia2020, is winning by a lot. CA25 Rigged Election!"

The president, who in the past has framed efforts to increase voting opportunities as partisan, was speaking about a voting center approved last week in Lancaster, California, ahead of Tuesday's special election between Democrat Christy Smith, a member of the California State Assembly, and Republican Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot.

Local Democrats said the center would ensure that African Americans, whom they argued are more likely to vote in person, are not disenfranchised. Smith thanked the Congressional Black Caucus for supporting the voting center in a statement sent to Newsweek.

She called the voting centers "necessary," saying that "in California we believe in expansive voting rights and we allow people to register and vote provisionally the same day."

"Voters with disabilities sometimes require assistance and/or adaptive devices to vote, and vote centers provide that," she added.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a nationwide push for mail-in voting, with the CA-25 special election serving as an early test of similar processes that will be in effect in several other states, and a preview of what plays out across the country in November. In a normal election in the district, there would be roughly 1,000 polling locations, a Smith spokesman told The Washington Post, but on Tuesday there will only be 13, including the one in Lancaster.

An issue fueling Republican frustration with the voting centers includes the opportunity to pick up an unexpected seat, but only if things go right in the Democratic-leaning district. The early vote so far favors them: A top ballot tracker from Political Data Inc. (PDI) shows that Republicans have so far returned 39 percent of their ballots, compared with only 25 percent of ballots returned by Democrats and 19 percent from independent voters. But an Election Day vote victory may not be likely in a district Hillary Clinton won by seven points in 2016 and former representative Katie Hill won by nine points in 2018.

Garcia said on Twitter that Smith "and her liberal Dem allies didn't say anything for weeks even though the polling places were in full view of the public. Even after every voter received a ballot, they are desperate and trying to change the rules to steal an election." His office declined to comment further, directing Newsweek to his tweets.

But one of Garcia's supporters, Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris—who greeted Trump on the tarmac with a wide smile during his visit to Los Angeles just three months ago—made the request for the voting center because, he said, "there should not be even the appearance of affecting the outcome by limiting the ability to vote."

"The only way Republicans can win a California seat is in an extremely low-turnout election in the middle of a pandemic," former California Republican Party political director Mike Madrid told Newsweek. Madrid, who grew up in the area and worked in his first congressional race there in 1992, said Garcia should be able to win the seat now, but will lose it in November because of higher turnout and demographics.

Part of those demographics include the fact that the district is more than one-third Latino, but corresponding early turnout is not at the same level, with white voters returning their ballots at double the rate as Latino voters, 33 percent to 16 percent for Hispanics, according to the PDI ballot tracker.

A win for Republicans would temporarily give them a seat held by Democrats before former congresswoman Hill resigned after intimate photos were released without her consent and she was investigated by the House Ethics Committee over an accusation of an improper relationship with a congressional staffer. Smith and Garcia would then run against each other again in November for a full two-year term.

The coronavirus crisis has emerged as a high stakes disagreement between the two candidates along partisan lines, with Garcia supporting Trump's plan to reopen states as soon as possible, and Smith supporting California Governor Gavin Newsom's plan to reopen the state's economy more slowly, along with a plan that would require local communities to be prepared to track and trace new coronavirus infections.

The president made clear in March during a phone call with Fox & Friends that he views increased voting measures as a threat to getting Republicans elected.

"The things they had in there were crazy," Trump said about a push by Democrats to increase voting access through the initial coronavirus relief bills. "They had things, levels of voting that if you'd ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."