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Early Turnout In Orange County Is Well Ahead Of 2016, and LA Tops 2 Million Votes Cast

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The Orange County Registrar-Recorder held a mock election previewing new vote centers and ballot marking equipment at county offices in Santa Ana on Jan. 7, 2020. Libby Denkmann for LAist
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With COVID-19 forcing an expansion of vote-by-mail across the state, and heightened political awareness following a summer of social justice protests, Southern California election officials are reporting gangbuster early voting so far for the presidential election.

In Orange County, 767,299 ballots had been returned as of Wednesday night, representing roughly 45% of active registered voters. The returns are about 20% ahead of the same time period in 2016, according to Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley.

Earlier this week, two wildfires in the northeastern part of the county forced the closure of some “pop-up” in-person voting sites and ballot drop-boxes in Santa Ana, Irvine and Yorba Linda. Early voting was available throughout at the Registrar of Voters office in Santa Ana, and all Orange County vote centers are slated to open on Friday.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County has cracked two million votes cast for the Nov. 3 election, with several days of voting still to go. That's nearly two-thirds the number of L.A. County votes cast in 2016.

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Nearly 800 in-person vote centers will open Friday across L.A. County.

Unlike Los Angeles, Orange County began sending ballots to every voter for the March primary election, so this is not the county’s first experience with a majority vote-by-mail election. One developing trend there: The non-partisan firm Political Data Inc. notes that Republicans are holding on to their ballots at a significantly higher rate than Democrats.

Several competitive O.C.-area congressional and state legislative races are on the ballot, and GOP interest in the election is high. Some analysts are concerned that could translate to lines at voting centers on Election Day, if Republicans decide to heed President Trump’s advice to vote in-person.

“I’m always thinking about that, especially with COVID,” Kelley said. He’s encouraging voters to take advantage of the various options for early voting, both in-person and by mail. “And if they’re more comfortable handing off [their ballot] in person, they can skip the lines at any vote center to deliver,” he added.

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Early voting doesn’t guarantee overall turnout will be higher than normal. It will take weeks to get a complete picture of turnout, and the vote won’t be finalized until election officials sign off on the returns. Counties must report their results by early December, and the Secretary of State has until Dec. 11 to officially certify the election returns.

“I think it’s a bit early,” Kelley said. “But I believe, based on interest levels, we will definitely still see potential record turnout.

(You can find all the election info you need at VoterGamePlan.com.)