Los Angeles County election workers are officially done tallying votes cast in the June primary, and the results show that the fight to become mayor could come down to an east-west divide among the city’s voters.
The results also show many residents cast ballots but did not vote in certain races, which may have affected close City Council races.
Councilmember Rex Richardson emerged from the final update from Los Angeles County with a lead of seven percentage-points, which grew from about four points on election night.
Richardson, who represents the city’s northernmost City Council district and has positioned himself as the more progressive candidate, won seven of the city’s nine council districts, including all of the districts west of the city’s center.
Those districts generally had lower voter turnout, ranging from 15% to 27%, compared to the three East Long Beach districts that all saw over 40% voter turnout, according to county election data.
However, Richardson did finish with the most votes in the newly formed 5th District (43%), which includes the areas immediately east and west of Long Beach Airport. In every other district except the 3rd and 4th, Richardson captured more than 50% of the vote, with his largest percentage share coming in the 9th District (58%) where he has served as a councilmember for the past eight years.
The 5th District has historically been a safe harbor for more centrist candidates like Price, a deputy district attorney in Orange County. But Richardson received 6,644 votes in the district, finishing about five points ahead of Price, who received 5,801 votes.
Matt Lesenyie, a professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach, said a seven-point overall lead for Richardson is strong, and could be enough for him to win in November. But he said it’s not an insurmountable lead.
What could end up mattering most is the next few months of campaigning and whether a scandal presents itself for one of the candidates to seize on. Either way, the general election is likely to inject even more voters who may not be familiar with either Price or Richardson, Lesenyie said.
“They have to be brought up to season 3, and then they’ll vote,” Lesenyie said, comparing uninformed voters to viewers binge-watching television.
Winning the mayoral race has historically required candidates to win or at least be competitive in East Long Beach because of its active voting population. Price was expected to do well in the region because of her eight years spent representing Southeast Long Beach, her alliances with the other East Long Beach councilmembers and her background as a deputy district attorney.
Price ran up her vote total in the 3rd and 4th City Council districts, which had among the highest turnout numbers. Price has represented the 3rd District since 2014 and captured over 56% of the vote there during the primary. In the 4th District, which now includes portions of the old 3rd District due to redistricting, Price received 44% of the vote among the six candidates for mayor.
Roughly 29% of registered voters in the city cast ballots last month, a total that is expected to grow in November because of the growing list of statewide ballot measures, potential City Charter reforms and general upheaval at the federal level that could energize voters.
There is optimism from both camps that their candidate will succeed in November.
Richardson’s team has said the primary was proof that he had built a broad coalition that could carry him to victory in the general election.
Price’s team believes there’s not only a path but a clear path for her to win, but it will require voters to participate who may have sat out the primary because they expected her to perform better.
'We call that roll off'
When you filled out your ballot, did you skip some of the races? If so, you were part of the “roll off,” which is the difference between the number of ballots cast and the number of votes tallied in each individual race. In Long Beach, there were 80,321 ballots cast but some of the citywide races saw nearly 10,000 fewer votes counted, according to county data.
Roll off can result from a number of things, including mistakes filling in the bubbles on the ballot.
The race for city attorney (9,850), city prosecutor (9,633) and city auditor (9,954) all had significantly fewer votes than the number of ballots cast in Long Beach. Each of those races had a roll off of about 12%.
“People will do it because they don't understand, don't know the people, the responsibility of the office or they think it won't matter,” Lesenyie said. “Roll off is very typical and is generally related to lower offices.”
The mayor’s race had over 3,700 people not cast a ballot for any of the six candidates, or about 4.6%.
The five City Council races saw about a 10% roll off, which is significant considering a few dozen votes determined the outcome of the 1st and 9th district races.
The 9th District race is heading to a runoff in November, while 1st District incumbent Mary Zendejas won reelection with just 50.25% of the vote.
Candidates fighting for second place in the 3rd District race to replace Price were separated by less than 100 votes. There were 1,661 ballots that had no choice marked in the 3rd District race.
Lesenyie said the roll off percentages typically get larger as the races get smaller. In other words, voters are more likely to vote for governor and federal offices—they did—and less likely to fill out selections for more local offices, even though they’re closer to home.
One of the leading factors is likely that they didn’t know enough about the candidates to feel comfortable making a choice, he explained.
“Most people roll off because they don’t know and they’re kind of abstaining in a responsible manner,” Lesenyie said.