Voters across Southern California braved the rain Tuesday morning to cast their ballots in a midterm election that will determine the balance of power in Congress, abortion access and who will lead the nation’s second-largest city.
The mood leading up to election day has been one of consternation, with voters grappling with inflation, a scandal that has roiled Los Angeles City Hall and acts of political violence — most recently the assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband — that have left them on edge.
Turnout for the midterm vote — the halfway point of a president’s four-year term — is historically much lower than for a presidential election. The sizable shift to vote-by-mail ballots during the pandemic changed how many Californians participate in elections and means that it can take longer to tally votes than it has in past years.
After casting her vote in the Elysian Masonic Temple in Los Feliz on Tuesday morning, Jaclyn Zeccola buckled her 3-year-old son into his car seat with her red voting sticker in hand. The 46-year-old said fears about the future prompted her to vote.
“Quite frankly, I’m terrified our world is coming to an end,” she said. “We’re very lucky, we live in a liberal area. But I think I’m voting in the hopes that the tide will turn nationally to where we are — where we recognize the rights that are being taken away from so many people.”
At the Oakwood Community Center in Venice, the sun peeked out amid cloudy skies as four people waited briefly in line Tuesday for voting machines to become available. Poll workers said a steady stream of voters had been casting ballots since Monday.
For Venice resident Claudia Soriano, 59, homelessness and crime were key issues. She voted for Rick Caruso for mayor of Los Angeles and Traci Park for Council District 11, a coastal district that includes the Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Marina del Rey, because they’ll clean up city streets and make neighborhoods safe, she said.
Soriano, who has lived in Venice for 15 years, said she has found several homeless people in her driveway, and she worries about her two daughters’ safety.
“I always vote, but especially this time because we need to fix the situation,” Soriano said. “We have so many homeless.”
As of late Monday, about 5.1 million mail-in ballots had been returned in California. About 51% were from Democrats, 28% coming from Republicans and 21% from independents or those who identify with another political party, according to election data reviewed by the consulting firm Political Data Intelligence.
Historically, many Republicans have voted by mail. However, that dynamic changed dramatically in 2020, when then-President Trump and others spread baseless allegations of mail ballot fraud. Now, experts say, Republicans are more likely to vote in person on election day.
It’s unclear how the rain will affect turnout. Los Angeles County hasn’t had a wet election day since 2008.
A storm originating from the Gulf of Alaska is expected to peak Tuesday before tapering off Wednesday into scattered showers, according to the National Weather Service. The system could dump 1 to 3 inches of rain on lower elevations in L.A. County and 2 to 3 inches in mountain areas.
A flood watch is in effect through Tuesday evening for portions of L.A. County, including the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys. Heavy rain prompted a mandatory evacuation order in Silverado Canyon, Williams Canyon and Modjeska in Orange County and forced the closure of the nearby vote center at the Library of the Canyons.
The Republican Party of Orange County sent out an email Monday recommending members vote as soon as possible to avoid getting stuck in the rain.
“Election day lines are long and typically one to two hours long. Don’t risk getting caught waiting in the rain to cast your ballot,” the email says.
In an effort to make voting easier, people in L.A. County can get free bus and train rides to polling places on Tuesday.
Outside the Hollywood Lutheran Church, “I Voted” signs were speckled with rain drops and twisted slightly in the wind. An election worker collected rain-drenched signs that warned against electioneering and replaced them with new ones.
Iris Medrano, an election worker lead at the voting center, said they had worried it’d be slow because of the rain. But by 9:30 a.m., she estimated that around 30 people had come in to vote. When workers arrived, a couple of voters were already waiting in line in the downpour.
Medrano, 48, has been at the center for the last three days for early voting as well, working 12-hour days. On Monday, she said, a man in his 90s came in because he’d lost his mail-in ballot. He had his cane and umbrella.
“He was so determined,” Medrano said. “It makes all these long hours worth being here.”
Congressional races across Southern California have been tightening in the past week, particularly in coastal Orange County districts where Reps. Katie Porter and Mike Levin are seeking reelection.
The rain was starting to let up shortly after 9 a.m. when Alfredo Padron cast his vote at the Garden Grove Sports and Recreation Center. He proudly affixed an “I Voted” sticker to the front of his black hoodie from Blizzard Entertainment, the Irvine-based video game company where he works.
Ballot propositions, particularly Prop. 1, brought Padron, a Democrat, out to the polls. He said he “found it appalling” that Roe was overturned in June.
The Cuban American also voted for Jay Chen, a congressional candidate challenging GOP Rep. Michelle Steel to represent the 45th District, centered in Little Saigon in Orange County. A constant stream of mailers painting Chen, a Taiwanese American, as having communist ties to China turned Padron off.
“He’s an American just like me,” Padron said. “I don’t know why his opponent had to resort to red smears in the race.”
In Los Angeles, polling in the race for mayor also tightened significantly in the final week, with Caruso, a billionaire businessman and developer, cutting into Rep. Karen Bass’ lead with the help of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads against her.
Abby Boyle came ready for the rain, wearing bright red rain boots and a bucket hat as she cast her ballot at the Masonic temple.
The 23-year-old said she was motivated to vote in support of Prop. 1, which would explicitly protect the right to abortion in the state.
“And also making sure that Rick Caruso doesn’t win this election,” she said. “I don’t agree with a lot of what’s he done to L.A. already. I know a lot of Republicans are thinking that L.A. is going downhill and Rick Caruso will build a better L.A., but I don’t think that’s a better L.A. for everyone. I think that’s a better L.A. for the top 1%.”
Ian Phillips, 35, trudged through the rain to the temple with a thermos in hand to vote Tuesday. Phillips, who works in TV and film, and describes himself as a “hard-left socialist,” said he was eager to cast his ballot in the mayoral election.
“Making sure that Rick Caruso is not our next mayor was my primary motivating factor,” he said, adding that he disliked that Caruso just recently registered as a Democrat.
“Karen Bass is just much more authentically an Angeleno,” he said.
Voters in Los Angeles are also being asked to decide several other propositions and the future leadership of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
In that race, retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna is battling incumbent Alex Villanueva, who has frequently clashed with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors during his tenure.
Times staff writers Robert Lopez, Grace Toohey and Julia Wick contributed to this report.