Valley voters shrugged at election to replace Nury Martinez. Will June be any better?

L.A. City Council District 6 candidates Imelda Padilla, left, and Marisa Alcaraz
Los Angeles City Council District 6 candidates Imelda Padilla, left, and Marisa Alcaraz during a debate in Panorama City in March.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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The scandal that brought down Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez generated international headlines, protests outside City Hall and calls for government reforms.

Yet last week’s election to fill Martinez’s vacant seat on the City Council was largely ignored by voters. Most declined to cast a ballot.

Just 11.4% of voters in Council District 6, which covers the central and eastern San Fernando Valley, took part in the April 4 election, according to certified results released Friday by the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder.


In all, 12,638 vote-by-mail ballots were returned. An additional 872 people cast votes at polling booths. More than 118,000 voters were mailed a ballot, part of an effort to increase voting.

Imelda Padilla knocking on doors as she campaigns in Sun Valley
Imelda Padilla knocks on doors while campaigning in Sun Valley on March 31.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley, said that she’s not surprised by the low turnout, given that special elections typically see fewer voters.

Rodriguez also tied the turnout to what she said was a lack of media coverage, saying that news outlets failed to cover the race in the same way that they “covered the circumstances that created the special election.”

Rodriguez has endorsed candidate Imelda Padilla, one of the two top vote getters in last week’s election. Padilla, a community advocate, will face Marisa Alcaraz, a top advisor to City Councilman Curren Price, in the June 27 runoff.

The election’s final results show that Padilla received 25.7% of the vote, while Alcaraz received 21.1%.


Both women are progressive Democrats, although not as far to the left as some members of the L.A. City Council. Both express similar opinions when it comes to police staffing levels and homelessness policies. Given their overlapping views, the candidates’ personal stories and resumes likely will be heavily pushed by their campaigns in the runoff.

Alcaraz, who has also worked for former City Councilmember Richard Alarcón, is a single mother who grew up in Lake Balboa. Padilla, who has worked for various community groups, grew up in Sun Valley and has talked about her personal battle with rickets and having a brother who is incarcerated.

Price, who is backing Alcaraz, said the election will come down to how the candidates “communicate what they have done, what their experiences are, and how they relate to the concerns that the constituents have.”

Marisa Alcaraz and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo fire up a group of Alcaraz's volunteers. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. City Council candidate Marisa Alcaraz and state Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) fire up a group of Alcaraz’s volunteers in Panorama City on March 31.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Low voter engagement in this majority-Latino district will be a challenge. The Times reported in 2022 that many Latino residents skip elections in L.A. because they don’t think their ballot will count or because they don’t think a candidate represents their views.

There are about 64,650 registered Latino voters in District 6, yet only 3,362, or 5%, cast votes, according to political data specialist Paul Mitchell. That figure just includes the initial ballots received by the county that were counted early last week. Mitchell said that Latino voters are generally more likely to be in-person poll voters, but he predicted the post-election data analysis will also show that Latino voters underperformed.


Another group that underperfomed in the initial vote count was young voters, with just 4% casting ballots.

By contrast, Armenian American voters are only about 4% of the district’s registered voters, but they saw 22% turnout and were 12% of all those who returned ballots in initial returns. An Armenian American candidate, Rose Grigoryan, was on the ballot and came in fourth in the primary.

Historically, Armenian American turnout will beat almost all other categories of voters if an Armenian American is on the ballot, said political strategist Eric Hacopian.

“That effect gets exaggerated in low-turnout special elections,” Hacopian said.

Imelda Padilla and Marisa Alcaraz would duel in a June 27 runoff if current results hold in the special election to fill the District 6 seat on the L.A. City Council.

April 7, 2023

Mitchell, the voter data specialist, said that Padilla and Alcaraz have a “clean slate” when it comes to the general because there’s no guarantee that the voters who came out in the primary will vote in the general.

Past elections in this district have illustrated how the primary and runoff can produce starkly different results. In 2013, the last time there was an open seat for District 6, Martinez trailed by nearly 20 points to the primary’s first-place finisher, Cindy Montañez.

But Martinez roared back in the runoff, beating Montañez by nearly 10 points in one of the biggest City Council upsets in recent memory.