LOS ANGELES—In what was supposed to be a meaningful first congressional primary since President Donald Trump’s election, preliminary counts show just over 9% of registered voters cast ballots here Tuesday.
Because this is a special election to fill an empty seat vacated by Xavier Becerra (who was appointed the state’s attorney general after Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate), it’s tough to offer a comparison, but a single digit percentage turnout for a congressional race is low.
A majority of candidates (18 of 23) running to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives were people of color in a district that is 67% Latinx. ICE raids conducted in Los Angeles often happen in this area, district 34, which includes Boyle Heights, El Sereno, Filipinotown, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Highland Park neighborhoods, where we recently saw a 13-year-old girl record video of her dad being detained by immigration agents.
It also includes some of the hip, gentrifying areas with young progressive voters, like Downtown LA and parts of Echo Park, where you see “#resist” signs posted all over. It’s also the only congressional district in the LA area to go for Bernie Sanders during the presidential primaries. This was supposed to be the perfect place for Trump resisters to translate activism on the streets to votes in the booth.
But in the end, fewer than 10% of eligible registered voters casted ballots. And it appears the two candidates who will move on to the June 6 runoff election include the “establishment” candidate and the politician who raised the most money. Both men.
A total of 29,407 ballots were processed and counted yesterday, in a congressional district with 305,551 eligible voters, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Results may change slightly because there are still provisional and vote by mail ballots to be counted. A more detailed count will be made available on Friday.
The 29,000-odd votes cast on Tuesday are a tiny fraction of the estimated 750,000 people who poured into the streets of downtown L.A. on January 21 to protest Trump’s election. The protest, which coincided with the Women’s March on Washington, took place in Downtown L.A, part of congressional district 34.
When I went to my precinct to vote around 5:30 PM on Tuesday, I was the 50th voter to cast a ballot, out of about 1,700 eligible voters in my neighborhood. When I went back 30 minutes before the polls closed, there were 80 votes cast at my local precinct. Filing all that paperwork and keeping the polls open from 7 AM to 8 PM cost the county an estimated $1,371,000 for the special election, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.
To be clear, both of the candidates heading to the runoff are relatively progressive compared to other Democrats in Congress, but they are not the anti-establishment radical representatives protesters say they want.
Democrat Jimmy Gomez, 42, has taken the lead with 28% of the votes, according to the latest count from the county clerk. The son of Mexican immigrants currently serves in the California State Assembly, where he’s championed paid family leave efforts.
Robert Lee Ahn, 41, also a Democrat, came in second with 18.99% of the votes. The attorney and former Los Angeles city planning commissioner out-raised every other candidate. If Ahn wins, he would be the only Korean-American in Congress and the first Korean-American Democrat to be elected to the body, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Ahn’s campaign included efforts to get more Koreans politically engaged. The L.A. Times reported his campaign spent weeks registering more than 600 voters at Koreatown malls and restaurants. His supporters also came through when it came time for fundraising.
Democrat Maria Cabildo, 46, a longtime affordable housing developer and advocate whom the L.A. Times endorsed, came in a distant third with 9.58% of the votes.
The Berniecrats (Wendy Carrillo, Arturo Carmona, and Kenneth Mejia) all came in with single digit percentages.
The election was a game-changer just by the sheer diversity of candidates: Half of the 24 candidates were women and included white, black, and Latinx community organizers, as well as a social worker, one Obama administration advisor, and a rocket scientist for NASA.
Half of the candidates were also immigrants or first-generation Americans, including Wendy Carrillo, who could have been the first formerly undocumented woman elected to Congress. There was also Kenneth Mejia, a 26-year-old first-generation Filipino-American, who was representing the Green Party.
“It was a disappointing result for those who wanted to see one of the many female candidates in the race break through, and for those who hoped one of the several Bernie Sanders-associated progressive candidates would grab a spot,” noted L.A. Times political reporter Christine Mai-Duc.
The race in California’s 34th Congressional District is one of five special elections for the House of Representatives that are expected to take place over the next few months, when Georgia, Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina will go to the polls.