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Los Angeles County Voters Are Astounding Analysts With Huge Early Turnout

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Voters cast their ballots at the vote center inside Staples Center. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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The number of vote-by-mail ballots returned so far in L.A. County has eclipsed previous elections and the high rate of early turnout is surprising experts.

With just under a week to go until Election Day, the county is nearing 2 million votes cast. Angelenos have already surpassed half the vote total of the 2016 presidential election.

A total of 1,857,573 vote-by-mail ballots had been returned as of Tuesday evening, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office, and 116,084 county voters have cast a ballot at a vote center.

At the same point in 2016, with six days of voting left in the general election, Los Angeles County saw a total of 557,557 votes cast, according to data collected by the non-partisan firm Political Data Inc. Of course, this is the first election in which every eligible L.A. County voter received a ballot by mail.

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Paul Mitchell, California voter data guru and vice president of Political Data Inc., says a flood of ballots were mailed back to county elections offices in just the first couple days after registrars sent them out in early October. Typically it takes at least a week to see significant returns.

“We honestly were scratching our heads and double checking the data to make sure that we had what we thought we had,” Mitchell said. “It was pretty astounding.”

It’s tough to compare apples-to-apples, because prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Angelenos still had to request mail-in ballots, and L.A. has lagged slightly behind the rest of California in adopting vote-by-mail.

But as Mitchell points out in a recent column for Capitol Weekly, the rest of the state is also seeing ballots pouring in at historic early rates.

For context, a quick look at the 2016 Presidential Election: 1,283,648 Angelenos voted by mail, out of a total of 3,544,115 votes cast. There were 5.25 million registered L.A. County voters during this election, putting turnout at just under 63% of registered voters.

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This time around, Los Angeles County had 5.6 million registered voters as of September 2020.

Statewide, analysts are predicting a total of roughly 16.5 million votes to be cast. There are more than 21 million registered voters in California.

Mitchell said it’s too early to tell what the strong early participation numbers mean for overall turnout, because many low-propensity voters are still waiting to turn in their ballots or show up to vote centers -- and that could translate to long lines on Election Day.

Many more voting centers will open this weekend. You can find a map of locations at our Voter Game Plan.

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