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Mail-in returns in L.A.'s congressional race suggest another boost in Korean American turnout

Voters line up for early voting over the weekend at Pio Pico Library in Koreatown (Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)
Voters line up for early voting over the weekend at Pio Pico Library in Koreatown (Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

Election day in L.A.'s 34th Congressional District isn't until tomorrow, but tens of thousands of voters have already cast ballots in the race to choose L.A.'s next congressman.

The runoff, between Robert Lee Ahn and Jimmy Gomez, both Democrats, gives the small but motivated Korean American community in the district the chance to elect its first Democratic congressman.

Their enthusiasm is showing in early return numbers.

As of Monday afternoon, 21,000 mail ballots had been received, an increase of about 20% compared with the day before the April primary. 

Korean American voters, who make up just 6% of voters in this majority Latino district, are outpacing Latinos in early returns.

Turnout probably will be key in the election and is being so closely watched that an Ahn campaign volunteer was counting ballots as they were submitted Saturday at Pio Pico Library.

About 5,660, or 30% of Korean American registered voters, have already voted, according to a surname and birthplace analysis by Political Data Inc. The day before the primary election, about 4,000 Korean Americans had already voted.

Latino turnout was about 3% as of Monday, or about 5,550 votes. Election day voting at polling places generally favors Latino turnout: More than 40% of precinct voters in the primary were Latino.

Korean Americans made up about 27% of early mail returns as of Monday evening, and Asians as a whole, who have received targeted ads from Ahn, made up about 38% of the ballots.

This doesn't include more than 1,400 voters who participated in early voting over the weekend. The vast majority of those weekend votes came from Pio Pico Library in Koreatown, where many Korean Americans also turned out in force to vote.

One of those voters Saturday was Janice Yi, 62, a small-business owner who sells auto parts. Yi, a Republican, said it didn't matter to her that Ahn is a Democrat.

"Whatever happens to our community, there needs to be a voice to speak up for us," she said. She said she hoped Ahn could "represent what we think, what our needs are" in Congress. Her daughter, who's a Democrat, voted for Gomez. Yi said she didn't try to convince her. "She's very headstrong and stubborn, like me."

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