By all accounts, Leon Sit, 19, lost the June primary for California’s 59th Assembly District by a mile.
"My opponent, Phillip Chen, got 75,555 votes," he said.
And Sit got just 551, but enough for him to finish second, which is all that’s required in the state, surpassing the other write-in candidate who had only 58 votes.
“In California, there’s no such thing as a write-in candidate for the general election, except for presidential races, so if no one had signed up for the primary to run against Phillip Chen, then he would have won uncontested with 100% of the votes,” Sit said.
He’s running as an Independent and admits he didn’t enter the race to become a legislator or go deep into politics. In fact, he’s an engineering student at UCLA. Instead, he’s simply making a point for what he calls “the core of democracy.”
“It’s about making sure that more districts in California and around the country have at least two names on the ballot,” he said. “To me, it’s been more important that there has been an election and that Phillip Chen has the opportunity to make his case to voters instead of being able to glide into another term in Sacramento.”
He believes local Democratic groups felt Chen would be too difficult to run against, since he’s been in office since 2016 and about 40% of the district is registered Republican. Still, he feels humbled by all those who voted for him.
“You have to know the person’s name, and you have to go out of your way to write their name in and then select ‘write in,’ so I think these people trust me with their vote,” Sit said.
He only recently began doing some fundraising and spent more than $1,000 to get a ballot statement in the Orange County Voter Information Guide, which will be sent to 250,000 voters with details about his campaign.
“We should make sure that incumbents don’t go uncontested, especially in a seat that is so competitive on the top line and has a diverse political makeup,” he said.
So far, Sit said he and Chen haven’t corresponded with each other, but Sit plans to reach out as the election gets closer.
“I’m sure he’s a little disappointed he doesn’t get to be reelected with no competition,” Sit said.
While he said some have called him an opportunist, he said he also has received messages online from those who say what he’s doing is inspiring and he hopes more young people take notice.
“Regardless of partisan politics, I think we all need to be more involved,” he said.
And although elections are mainly about numbers, come November, Sit feels just being on the ballot is a statement all its own.
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