When to expect local results in today’s historic election

The results of Long Beach races could be clear very quickly this election cycle as a record number of voters opted to cast their ballots early, meaning a large chunk of results will be released with the county’s first election-night tally shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m.

Over 2.6 million vote-by-mail ballots have already been returned to the county, according to election officials, and those totals are in addition to the hundreds of thousands of county voters who turned out early to vote in person at vote centers that opened last weekend.

In total, county election officials said more than 3.1 million votes had already been cast, bringing voter turnout to 55.6% headed into Election Day. There were just over 5.6 million registered voters in the county as of September.

To process those early returns, hundreds of county employees have been working at a site in Pomona to prepare and verify the vote-by-mail ballots received prior to election night, said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Those ballots are then placed into sealed containers and transferred to a separate site in Downey where they will wait until election night to be placed into the counting machines and tallied along with any other early votes right at 8 p.m.

Sanchez said he anticipates that the over 2 million vote-by-mail ballots and the early in-person votes will be part of the first update the county puts out, likely within 30 minutes of the polls closing Tuesday night.

That, combined with historic early voter participation, could mean the first results released in some local races might essentially end the contests. However, election officials cautioned that it could still take some time for outcomes to be finalized.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re going to call races on election night because there are still going to be vote-by-mail ballots sent on Election Day,” said Sanchez. “They have 17 days to be counted so we won’t be calling any races.”

After the first batch of early results are tabulated, the sequence will switch to counting the Election Day in-person votes, then back to vote-by-mail ballots received after Election Day and other provisional votes. The latter would likely happen in the weeks following election night.

Sanchez said the county will likely utilize all the time it has to certify the election. A tentative certification date has been set for Nov. 30.

As a city, Long Beach has also shown strong early turnout.

Nearly 40% of Long Beach ballots issued had been returned as of late last week, with that figure likely to have grown over the weekend. In some specific races, those percentages are even higher.

As of Nov. 2, 54% of registered voters had already cast their ballots in the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees race. And in the contentious 2nd District City Council race between Robert Fox and Cindy Allen, 49% of the registered vote had already come in.

The number of ballots already returned in Long Beach’s local races as of Nov. 2, 2020. Source: LA County Registrar-Recorder’s office

That could mean a clear picture of who wins the City Council, college district and school board seats up for grabs could come into focus in days, rather than weeks—although there’s no guarantee of getting any certainty before the county’s certification of the results.

Having clear frontrunners early on election night would be a departure from the primary election in March in which candidates and campaigns waited hours between updates for marginal changes in the vote counts.

The March 3 election took over three weeks for all the city’s races to be determined with the fate of Measure A, an extension of a sales tax increase, not being decided until the day that the county certified the election results, 24 days after election night.

The coronavirus is likely responsible for the big shift to early voting this time around. Health protocols instituted by state officials required each registered voter in the state to be issued a mail-in ballot, something the county board of supervisors approved in April. And voters trying to avoid crowded vote centers during the pandemic have likely contributed to the extensive early voting turnout.

During the 2016 presidential election, about 36% of voters turned their ballots in by mail. This year, that mark has already surpassed 47% as of Monday. The high rate of votes received by mail is likely to set a record for the county, an election official said.

“We’re prepared to have the largest vote-by-mail return,” Sanchez said. “It’s very likely it could exceed our record.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.