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LA’s Contentious 2022 Election Now Has Highest Number Of Votes Ever Cast For Mayor

Women in a mariachi band cross the distinctive 6th Street viaduct with people holding umbrellas reading "Vote" behind them.
A Mariachi band leads a group of Latino and immigrant voters across the 6th Street Viaduct bridge to a voting center on Nov. 8.
(Frederic J. Brown
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Turnout for the L.A. mayoral race — nearly 44% as of Monday — is the highest since 1993, with more voters than ever participating in the election.

That marks a big improvement from the last time Los Angeles had an open seat for mayor. Back in 2013, only 23% of Angeleno voters cast their ballots in that runoff election.

The race this time around was contentious and costly, with developer Rick Caruso spending more than $100 million of his own money in an unsuccessful bid to beat Congress member Karen Bass.

The AP called the race for Bass a little more than a week after polls closed,after vote totals showed her leading Caruso by a growing margin.

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Election officials will keep tallying ballots until every valid vote is counted. The remaining 25,250 ballots left to be processed in L.A. County are ones where officials are reaching out to voters to correct their signatures. The next update is scheduled for Tuesday between 4 and 5 p.m.

So far, more than 923,747 ballots have been tallied — the highest raw number of votes in a mayoral race in city history. 

The previous high total was in 1969's runoff between incumbent Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley. Nearly 860,000 Angelenos cast ballots that May. [Note: Turnout was much higher that year. Although Bradley beat Yorty in that primary, he ultimately lost the runoff with 47% of the vote to Yorty's 53%. Four years later, Bradley beat Yorty to become L.A.'s first Black mayor.]

Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, said there were a few factors this year that increased the number of voters casting ballots.

“All the necessary conditions for a high turnout are present: No incumbent, two very well-known candidates in the runoff, a lot of money being spent, a lot of attention being given,” he said.

But the race itself isn’t the only reason.

The Vote So Far

New Election Calendar

This is the first year the mayoral race aligns with statewide and federal races. Before 2020, city elections were held in odd years, with the primary and runoffs in the spring.

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“People are used to voting in November … They don't think April or May or June,” Guerra said.

After the low turnout in 2013, Guerra led an effort as part of a city commission to change the elections calendar to boost voter turnout — and, he argues, it’s paid off.

“You’ve seen the impact, not only the impact on the mayoral race, but I would argue even greater on the council races to mobilize a very different constituency: younger people,” he said. He believes the changes have led to the elections of progressive candidates like Eunisses Hernandez in city council District 1 and Kenneth Mejia to the city controller position.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA, says a more diverse electorate shows up in even-numbered years.

“You see renters having a much bigger impact than they did in the days when L.A. held the elections in the odd numbered years. You see younger voters,” he said. “So it's not just the numbers. It's also that this election displayed a more diverse L.A.”

More voters have also come out to the polls this year because of the heightened political atmosphere in the country, Sonenshein said.

“You’ve had the impact of issues like abortion drawing people to the polls who might not have otherwise come to the polls. It's a very fraught political environment, and sometimes that increases turnout,” he said. “I don't think we're going to go back to the days of quiet midterm elections in this country."

Mayoral Elections in 1993 Vs. Now

L.A. isn’t alone when it comes to a history of low voter turnout. Guerra said it’s hard to get voters out to the polls in municipal elections in cities that are dominated by one party.

“What happened in 2013? It was two Democrats who were very much alike,” he said, speaking of mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel.

The record for turnout was set in 1969 at 76% when the city elected Sam Yorty, who ran a racist and divisive mayoral campaign to defeat Tom Bradley, Guerra said. As noted earlier, nearly 860,000 people voted in that election.

And the last time turnout among registered voters in L.A. was above 40% was in 1993, when the city elected conservative candidate Richard Riordan mayor. He won with 314,500 votes to about 268,000 for his opponent Mike Woo, a Democrat on the City Council.

While Sonenshein said he sees a lot of similarities between the 1993 election and today, there are a lot of differences in the electorate and the way people vote. It's one reason, he said, you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the percentages, because there are a lot more registered voters now than there were then because of efforts like automatic voter registration.

“To get 44 or 42% of this electorate is a lot more people to engage than to get 40% of the electorate in 1992,” he said. “[The percentage] doesn't tell you the whole story. Right now, more voters are participating in L.A. elections than ever before, regardless of what the final turnout is,” he said.

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Updated November 16, 2022 at 4:54 PM PST
This story updated with new tallies and AP's call of Karen Bass as the winner.