A special election that could restore the Democratic supermajority in California's Assembly hung in the balance on Wednesday, with uncounted ballots representing far more votes than the current margin between the two candidates.
Vacancies have left Democrats one seat short of the two-thirds majority that allows them to govern without Republican input. The open 45th Assembly District seat, held by Democrat Bob Blumenfield until he won election to the Los Angeles City Council earlier this year, offers a chance for Democrats to re-establish their dominance.
As of Tuesday evening, the Secretary of State's office reported that Democrat Matt Dababneh, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, held a slender 173 vote lead over his opponent, Republican Susan Shelley.
Ventura County has finished certifying its results, but the bulk of voters live in Los Angeles County. As of noon on Wednesday, 2,841 ballots remained to be counted in L.A. County, spokeswoman Regina Ip confirmed.
Special elections for state candidates rarely spur significant voter turnout, and this one was no exception: the turnout rate in Los Angeles county was 10.5 percent. Dababneh still drew nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions, far eclipsing the just under $50,000 Shelley raised.
Even with that fundraising gap, Shelley managed to keep things close in district that skews heavily Democratic in voter registration. Her campaign has emphasized preventing a Democratic supermajority from tampering with Proposition 13, touting an endorsement from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
In an interview with The Bee, Shelley attributed her surge to voter discontent with Democrats who are largely inoculated from challenges - "this situation where the incumbent have very low approval ratings and very high reelection rates" - and concerns about a revived Democratic supermajority.
"The idea that taxes could be raised, that things could get on thee ballot without any Republican input" helped motivate voters, Shelley told The Bee, adding that her socially moderate platform lets her focus on the economy.
Despite Shelley's surprisingly strong showing in a district widely perceived as a liberal stronghold, Democrats will pick up another seat after the special election to fill the Los Angeles-area 54th Assembly District seat Sen. Holly Mitchell used to hold.
Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include Shelley's comments.
PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John Perez, D- Los Angeles, right, listens during the last day of the legislative session on Thursday September 12, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.