Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey appears highly likely to face progressive challenger George Gascón in a November runoff that could set the tone for criminal justice policy inside the nation’s largest court system for years to come, according to returns made public Tuesday.
Lacey saw her share of the vote slip just below 49%, as Gascón climbed to slightly above 28% with about 64,000 votes remaining, the latest tally from the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder found.
To avoid a runoff, Lacey needs 50% of the vote plus one. But to hit that figure, she’d need to secure 53,000 of the remaining potential ballots, which is extremely unlikely as her vote share has been trending down since the initial set of returns came out on election night.
It is also unclear if all of the outstanding ballots will ultimately be counted and influence the outcome. The leftover pile includes 10,000 provisional votes as well as a number of damaged ballots, which could be voided as part of the county’s tallying process. Discarded ballots would only further tilt the math against Lacey.
Former public defender Rachel Rossi, who ran as an alternative to the two experienced law enforcement officials, was eliminated from the race Tuesday. Even if she were to secure every remaining ballot, she could not barge past Gascón into second place.
In a statement, Lacey said she was “honored” by the hundreds of thousands of voters who turned out for her and noted that in the wake of the panic caused by the spread of the coronavirus it is “all the more important that we have a real conversation about keeping our community safe.”
“I look forward to continuing that conversation in November,” she said.
Gascón’s campaign manager, Jamarah Hayner, said that while the returns bred “cautious optimism” her staff was also focused on making sure their loved ones and colleagues were safe and healthy in light of the outbreak.
For months, the three candidates faced off in a tense primary that pitted the more moderate Lacey against challengers who embody a nationwide push to elect more progressive prosecutors.
Gascón, a former assistant Los Angeles police chief who served as San Francisco’s district attorney for eight years, co-authored Proposition 47 — which reduced a number of felonies to misdemeanors under California law — and ran on a platform of improving public safety while reducing what he considers high incarceration levels in Los Angeles County. Critics, however, have blasted him over surges in property crime in San Francisco during his tenure.
Rossi, a former state and federal public defender who helped craft federal sentencing reform legislation in Washington D.C., had repeatedly chastised Lacey for her handling of cases involving mentally ill defendants and promised not to prosecute offenses she believed criminalize homelessness if elected.
The race grew increasingly contentious when a January debate was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, leading Lacey to decline to appear at other public forums throughout the primary. Less than 24 hours before election day, a predawn demonstration outside Lacey’s home organized by Black Lives Matter took a dangerous turn when the district attorney’s husband pointed a gun at the protesters.
Times Staff Writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.