Are voting booths a thing of the past? Mail-in ballots dominated in L.A. County

A woman leaves a polling place with her dog.
Zulay Carrillo with her dog Max after voting in the Super Tuesday primary election at the Boyle Heights Senior Center on March 5.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Dakota Smith at the helm.

The March 5 primary election showed once again that voters in L.A. County prefer mail-in ballots to marking their choice inside a booth.

More than 80% of the 1.65 million residents who voted in the election did so with a mail-in ballot, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder, which is nearly finished with its count.

By comparison, just about 36% used a mail-in ballot in the 2016 presidential primary.

“Vote by mail is the more popular method of voting since we started mailing ballots,” said Michael Sanchez, a spokesman for the County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.


In November 2020, the state mailed a ballot to every voter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that election, about 79% of those who voted did it with a mail-in-ballot. The next year, California legislators passed a law mandating that all voters be sent mail-in ballots.

The March 5 election was the first presidential primary since that law went into effect. And vote-by-mail ballots — historically used more often by conservative and older voters — made for dramatic finishes in some cases.

In the race for a Silver Lake-to-Reseda City Council seat, Ethan Weaver called himself a “pragmatic Democrat” while Councilmember Nithya Raman labeled herself a “pragmatic progressive.” On election night, Weaver appeared headed for a runoff against Raman. But vote-by-mail ballots, which were counted in the following days, pushed Raman past the 50% threshold.

On the city’s Eastside, progressive council candidate Ysabel Jurado got a big surge from mail-in ballots counted in the days and weeks after the election, eventually landing her in first place against incumbent Kevin de León. The two now head to a runoff.

Jannet Torres, Jurado’s field director, credited the campaign’s strong ground game. A team of up to 20 people worked in shifts in the final days of the election to talk to voters.

Torres said that voters were overwhelmed by picking among the eight candidates, including the three “establishment” choices of De León and Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago and Wendy Carrillo.

Voters “didn’t know what to do until the last minute,” Torres said.

Eagle Rock resident Jane Demian, who volunteers with the national group Vote Forward, said that during the primary season, she noticed her friends holding on to their mail-in ballots longer because of two “controversial” ballot measures that voters may have needed time to research.

Those measures were Prop. 1 — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to overhaul the state’s mental health system — and Healthy Streets Los Angeles, which requires the city to install bike and bus lanes.


Some voters may have struggled with other parts of the ballot, including the numerous candidates for Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, said political consultant Naomi Goldman.

Goldman, who canvassed for several candidates, said she encountered voters who’d received a ballot but hadn’t mailed it.

“People would come to the door, and say, “I know I got my ballot. It’s sitting somewhere.’”

State of play

—The City Council on Friday voted 12-1 to approve Mayor Karen Bass’ nomination of former Assemblyman Richard Katz to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. Councilmember Nithya Raman cast the lone vote against Katz, but didn’t publicly explain it. Katz served on the city’s redistricting commission that recommended big changes to the shape of Raman’s district.

TEED OFF: A group of golfers filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, alleging that officials have failed to stop brokers from buying up scarce tee times at municipal golf courses.

—BUDGET BUMMER: L.A. officials are moving forward with a plan to eliminate up to 2,000 vacant positions. The city has overspent by $288 million so far this budget year, with about half the overruns incurred by the police and fire departments. Mayor Karen Bass said the cuts would not affect services, since the positions are vacant.

—CRACKDOWN: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval for a law prohibiting residents from listing second homes, guesthouses, accessory dwelling units or investment properties as short-term rentals in unincorporated L.A. County.

—BIG BILL: The City Council will pay $24.5 million to end a lawsuit over the 2017 fatal police shooting of a 32-year-old Navy veteran. The award is one of the largest in LAPD history.


CASTING A WIDE NET: Los Angeles officials have hired a headhunting firm to vet candidates to be the next chief of police.

DUPED BY THE DOUBLE DIP?: The head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 is criticizing the L.A. City Attorney for allowing some city employees to “double dip” by retiring and then working at the DWP while collecting a pension for the first job.

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  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to combat homelessness went to the Koreatown section of Councilmember Heather Hutt’s district. About 30 people went indoors from the area around Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, according to Bass’ team.
  • On the docket for next week: The federal corruption trial targeting former deputy mayor Raymond Chan continues next week, with the defense team presenting its slate of witnesses.

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