Yes, LA Voters Could Pick Their Next Mayor In The June Primary. Here's What Would Have To Happen
Our Voter Game Plan team is answering all your questions about voting in the June 7 primary election. Over the weekend, we got a few questions asking basically the same thing:
If a single mayoral candidate gets 50%+1 of the primary vote, do they automatically become mayor after the primary?
A viral tweet thread from comedian, podcaster and TV host Adam Conover sparked this conversation over the weekend:
It's not common knowledge, but if a single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary this June, they skip the general election and win the office outright. I think that Caruso is gunning to win this way, and I think he has a chance of making it happen.— Adam Conover (@adamconover) May 14, 2022
So, is it true? Could a single candidate really win outright on June 7?
Election rules for both L.A. city and county specify that in election primaries, candidates may win the office if they receive more than 50% of the vote. If they don’t, the top two vote getters advance to the general election in November.
Here’s the relevant excerpt from the city of L.A.’s election code (see page 4):
Sec. 108. Results of Elections.
(a) In the event that any candidate receives a majority of the votes cast for an office at the Primary Nominating Election, that candidate shall be elected to the office.
(b) In the event no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast for an office at the Primary Nominating Election, the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes for the office shall be the candidates, and the only candidates, for that office whose names shall appear on the ballots to be used at the General Municipal Election.
Not only does this apply to the mayoral race, but all other L.A. city and county races, like county sheriff, Board of Supervisors, L.A city attorney, and L.A. City Council. (You’ll see a little note about this in each of our Voter Game Plan guides, in a box that says “How Local Primaries Work.”).
It looks like this ⇒
If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff.
However, in state-level races, like governor or state senator, the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election no matter how many votes they have.
OK, How Likely Is It?
So that answers the question of whether a mayoral candidate can win outright in June. But how likely is it?
It does happen, but usually in races that only have two or three candidates, or where one candidate has a big name-recognition advantage over their challengers. For instance, in 2020, L.A. City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Paul Krekorian, John Lee and Kevin De León all won their respective elections by getting more than 50% of the vote in the primary and bypassing the general election altogether.
Of course, all of those elections involved incumbents. The 2022 mayoral election, in contrast, has 10 candidates vying for an open seat. (You’ll see 12 candidates on your ballot because it was printed before Joe Buscaino and Mike Feuer dropped out.)
In an April poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, Rick Caruso was in the lead, with support from 24% of likely voters. Karen Bass was close behind with 23% support.
While this doesn’t seem like enough to get either candidate to that winning-outright threshold, the poll also found that about 40% of those surveyed were still undecided about their choice for mayor. With three weeks to go till Election Day, a lot can still happen.
There’s another big, contentious race that could result in a June winner under these rules, too: L.A. County Sheriff. There are nine candidates running for that seat, including incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva. This still makes for a pretty competitive field, and it’s unclear whether Villanueva’s incumbent status and name recognition could realistically help him rise to the 50% threshold, or if the controversies over his first term will hold him back. So far large-scale polling data on the sheriff’s race hasn’t been available. You can read more about the sheriff’s race in LAist’s Voter Game Plan.