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Here's What to Know About Primary Election Day in California

California is one of seven states where primary elections will set the stage Tuesday for decisive runoff contests in the fall.

Voters who have not already cast ballots early will head to the polls in Southern California to choose candidates in local, county and state races. The ballot features races for governor and other state offices, Congress, state senator and state assembly member, city councils, sheriffs school board measures and more.

But many races won’t be decided until later this year. In the California primary, the top two candidates in each race will continue to a runoff in November, unless one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote Tuesday.

In Los Angeles, the marquee race is for mayor. Beyond that, there may not be many high-profile contests, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences down the road in November and beyond.

“These local races, so mayor, sheriff, all of those kinds of things, members of Congress, those are the folks who actually have a significant impact on your quality of life,” said Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, a USC professor of political science. “And, so, if you’re wondering why there are encampments, or why we can’t get access to the services we need, of if you’re wondering about housing affordability, those are the kinds of things that people on a local front have the position, and frankly a responsibility, to fix.”

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in California.

Tuesday’s other primaries are in Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

Here are some of the key Southern California storylines and what voters should know.

Who will be Los Angeles’ next mayor?

The crowded Los Angeles mayor’s race has become a two-candidate battle between billionaire Rick Caruso and Democratic U.S. Rep. Karen Bass.

Twelve candidates made the cut for the primary ballot. Councilman Joe Buscaino, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Ramit Varma have since dropped out.

Caruso built a fortune investing in high-end shopping centers and resorts. The Republican-turned-Democrat spent millions of that fortune with TV and online ads focused on two recurring themes during campaign season — crime and homelessness.

Bass, once considered a possible pick for Joe Biden’s running mate, has strong support from progressive Democrats. The mayor’s race is technically non-partisan.

Both have high-profile endorsements and support from Los Angeles celebrities. Lakers great Earvin “Magic” Johnson is backing Bass. Caruso has support from Snoop Dogg, South LA community organizer Sweet Alice Harris and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Other city of Los Angeles races include controller, city attorney and City Council districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15. Elections for Los Angeles City Council districts 1, 3, 7 and 9 include only two candidates and will be decided.

New sheriff in town?

Voters will decide whether Sheriff Alex Villanueva deserves another four-year term. He faces eight challengers in the primary. Only one incumbent has lost a bid for re-election in the last century — that was Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was upset by Villanueva four years ago.

Two of the county’s five Board of Supervisor seats also are on the ballot. Board members have clashed regularly with Villanueva during his tenure.

Governor, other state offices at stake

Democrats hold every statewide office in California and the party’s voters outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. Gov. Gavin Newsom fended off a recall effort last year, and he’s facing little-known challengers this time around.

Other state office races include lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state controller, treasurer, attorney general, insurance commissioner, member of state board of equalization and state superintendent of public instruction.

Find Your California Primary Candidates

Enter an address, city, county or zip code.

Note: The candidate order is randomized. Source: California Secretary of State
Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Races to watch in the battle for Congress

Primary elections in the seven states voting Tuesday are precursors to U.S. House and Senate races this fall, which could determine control of Congress.

One race to watch in Southern California is in a Congressional district north of Los Angeles that has been a battleground during recent election cycles. Several Democrats are vying to unseat 25th District Rep. Mike Garcia.

Expect Garcia to advance to the November runoff with one of the Democratic challengers.

The district includes part of the San Fernando Valley, a swath of the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita.

District 45 offers a race to watch in Orange County. Won by Michelle Steel in 2020, redistricting has reshaped the contest. Steel’s home in Seal Beach was re-drawn into the same district as Rep. Katie Porter, and she elected to run the 45th District instead of 47th. She faces a challenge from Democrat Jay Chen.

As for Porter, she faces a challenge from Republican attorney Scott Baugh, a former state assemblyman and Orange County GOP chair.

And then there’s Bass’ seat. Seven candidates are competing to succeed her in Congressional District 37. State Sen. Sydney Kamlager has Bass’ backing. Councilwoman Jan Perry picked up an endorsement from Rep. Maxine Waters.

When, where and how can Southern Californians vote on Election Day?

Many Californians have already voted, whether via mail-in ballot, a drop-off site or in-person early voting. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. PST Tuesday in California for those who waited until Election Day.

Vote centers can be found at the county elections office links below.

Registered voters who were sent vote-by-mail ballots can return their ballots by mail by Tuesday, drop them off at a vote center, or in an official vote-by-mail drop box location.

A few other things voters should know:

  • If you’re in line before polls close, you can vote.
  • If you missed the registration deadline, you can still register on Election Day. Same-day registrants will be given a Conditional Voter Registration ballot that will be counted once it is verified by elections officials.
  • You can click here to find out about tracking your ballot.

What kind of voter turnout is expected for the California primary?

Without a marquee and highly competitive race on the statewide ballot, voter turnout is expected to be low. More than 81% of California’s eligible voters are registered, but just 13% had returned ballots as of Saturday, according to this Political Data Inc. tracker.

Voter turnout could reach new lows, possibly even eclipsing the previous low of a dismal 25% in the 2014 primary election.


Source: NBC Los Angeles

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