Forget the answers on election night: Results could take much longer in many close races

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Forget the answers on election night: Results could take much longer in many close races

California politics, elections 2024, homepage news

Julia Wick

March 5, 2024

Forget election night. Election season has been going on for weeks and it won’t be over anytime soon.

California’s miraculous adoption of voting by mail has done more than just fundamentally change the way we participate in the democratic process. The shift has also necessitated a cultural reconfiguration of election night outcomes and a realignment of the timeline for learning outcomes in many races.

Definitive answers likely won’t become clear until late Tuesday night in the most lopsided games. And in some of the toughest races, it can take days or weeks for convincing results to appear.

But fear not: these relatively slow vote counts are a feature of a working democratic system, not a bug.

I think what people often don’t understand about the election process in California is that the Legislature has purposely given voters every opportunity to cast their ballots and cast their votes, said Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County. Clerk Dean Logan, who serves as the county’s chief election officer



The state has spent decades trying to give voters more options and protections, making voting more accessible here than anywhere else in the country. But the downside of that equation means more time-consuming work for election officials.

Think of it this way: when a Californian shows up at a polling place and casts a ballot

with them

when voting in person, as was once common, all verification is done in advance at the voting center. When that ballot arrives for tabulation, no additional steps are necessary.


However, each mail-in ballot must be verified and processed before it can be tabulated


considerably more time-consuming. Now imagine hundreds of thousands of these mail-in ballots arriving on or just after Election Day.

That collapse of ballots creates what the California Voter Foundations Kim Alexander calls the “pig-in-the-python” phenomenon, where you just move a giant pile of ballots through the process.

The reason it took us so long was to verify all the ballots and make sure only valid ballots are counted, Alexander told The Times during the last statewide election. So it’s a function of election security, election security itself


people who criticize the slow vote count are demanding.

When will there be election results?

This is a deceptively complicated question.

Let’s start with the easy part: California is home to 58 counties, and each has an election office that counts votes in federal, state, and local races.

which were cast

in their jurisdictions. In the last presidential election


More than 9.6 million votes were cast in California in 2020.

In Los Angeles County, home to one in four California voters, the long-awaited first tranche of results will be released by the

Los Angeles County

registration office

some time

between 8:30 am


and 8:45 p.m. on election night. That first wave only includes ballots previously received

election day.

A second set of results, adding ballots cast in person at voting centers before Election Day, will be released

some time

between 8:45 am


and 9 p.m., according to the office.

The results of in-person ballots cast on Election Day will be released sometime after 9 p.m, with updates until the wee hours. (After the polls close at 8 p.m., ballots cast at the polls on Election Day must first travel to a county facility in the City of Industry before they can be tabulated, so that takes some time.)

After Election Day, updates

new set of results

will be released daily between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM on weekdays for the next two weeks

. These drops happen between 4 and 5 p.m. in the afternoon

according to the registration office.

The Orange County Voter Registrar will do that


to follow


a similar release schedule for election night, with daily updates to follow.

It’s also worth noting that mail-in ballots may take several days to arrive in mailboxes on or just before Election Day. California law requires ballots postmarked by Election Day to be accepted for up to seven days, meaning the total number of ballots cast won’t be known until well into next week.

Ultimately, we will announce our election results on March 29, Logan, LA County’s chief of elections, said with a laugh. Then we know that every vote has been counted and what the final outcome is.”

Okay, that’s the literal diagram. But when will we have meaningful answers?

That really depends on the match

in doubt at hand.

Paul Mitchell, a Democratic strategist and political data expert, predicted this will result in some of the bigger races, such as the U.S. Senate race and the gubernatorial election. Gavin Newsom’s statewide ballot measure, Proposition 1, would actually become known on election night.

The dynamics of a primary election where the two candidates who receive the most votes advance

into a drain

the Nov.

5 overall



Rather than declaring a clear winner, this could also dilute “the perception of the lateness of the election results,” Mitchell said.

The top candidate in many primaries will be clear on election night, even if some races take longer to determine who will join them in a runoff, Mitchell explained.

Take part in the race of the busy LA County District Attorney. Incumbent District Attorney George Gascn


will almost certainly finish in first place, but it could take days or weeks before enough votes are counted to determine which of his eleven challengers will

connect face

into him

the A

End of November.

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, also thought the results for Proposition 1 would be known on election night. But the political science professor predicted it could take a day or two before the second place finish in the Senate race is known for certain.

Partisan House races where both parties have already coalesced around a candidate, such as the 27th District in northern Los Angeles County, which pits incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) against Democratic challenger George Whitesides, are likely to shortly after the polls are called close.

But the results of more competitive House primaries could take days or weeks.

Where does my ballot go to be processed and tabulated in LA County?

There is an expansive 144,000 square foot facility adjacent to the 60


reeway in the City of Industry where hundreds of employees have been working for weeks


processing mail-in ballots. The building used to house a Frys Electronics store, although the huge blue and red decorative gears that once covered the facade have been removed since the province took over.

The operations inside seem like something between a factory floor and a highly choreographed ballet of specific tasks, although the actual counting of votes won’t begin until after 8 p.m. on election night.

You can watch the action as it happens on various live streams. (This is the first year the same facility has been used for both processing and tabulation. In the past, mail-in ballots had to be transported to a separate facility in Downey to be counted after being processed at City of Industry.)

In a county that spans more than 4,000 square miles, transporting ballots to the City of Industry facility on Election Day is also a huge logistical undertaking. After the polling stations are closed, the employees of


voting centers take the ballots to designated check-in centers, where they are collected by Sheriff’s Department deputies, who then deliver them to the City of Industry.

The Sheriff’s Department will also deploy helicopters from seven different locations, delivering ballots from far reaches of the county. A sheriff’s office-operated boat, helicopter or seaplane will deliver ballots from Catalina Island to the mainland, with the mode of transportation depending on weather conditions, Logan said.

More than 400 workers will also wait outside the county’s polls to lock them at 8 p.m., Logan said, before another group of workers transports the ballots to the City of Industry facility.


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