The mighty voting muscle of LA County

Los Angeles has no electoral votes, but it cast more ballots than 38 states
City Government

When it comes to presidential elections, the power of California is both obvious and taken for granted. The Golden State’s 55 electoral votes, which alone provide more than 20% of the 270 needed to win, reliably go to the Democratic party candidate, and by a comfortable margin. According to the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Joe Biden claimed 63.8% of the more than 16.5 million ballots cast in California. Donald Trump got 34%.


In fact, the 10.7 million votes Biden earned in California accounts for more than one out of eight of the 78.6 million that the now president-elect received in the entire United States. 


Generally overlooked is Los Angeles’s outsized role in the electoral process. Although candidates of both parties flock here to raise money, its impact in votes is even greater. Examining data from the Trump-Biden battle reveals that residents of Los Angeles County alone cast more ballots than were tabulated in 38 states and Washington, D.C.


Los Angeles County cast more ballots than 38 states

Los Angeles County voting power


As of Friday, Nov. 13, 4,261,742 votes had been cast and processed in the county, according to the office of Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan. That is more votes, according to New York Times election data tracking, than had been tabulated in the battleground state of Arizona (11 electoral votes, 3,381,446 ballots processed). It is more than three times the number of ballots cast in Nevada (6 electoral votes, approximately 1.34 million total votes).


Los Angeles County, with approximately 10 million residents, has 5.8 million registered voters, according to Logan’s office. This year, the spread of the coronavirus prompted Padilla in early October to send ballots to every voter in the state. Despite concerns about the reliability of the United States Postal Service, nearly 80% of voters in the county participated by mail.


Electoral votes from states smaller than Los Angeles County


38 states with fewer voters than Los Angeles County


By Friday afternoon, the participation level in Los Angeles County stood at 74.64%, surpassing the 67.5% turnout in the 2016 presidential election and the 68% recorded in 2012. The count will increase, as Logan said there are still more than 98,000 outstanding ballots


Ballots in the county can be tabulated as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3 and are received by Nov. 20. Final results will not be known until the county figures are certified later this month.


Los Angeles County’s support for Biden exceeds that of the state as a whole. The president-elect has garnered 71.2% of the vote in the county, while Trump has 26.77% (a small portion was divided among a quartet of fringe candidates). 


If Los Angeles were a state … 

The local figures pose an interesting question: How many electoral college votes might Los Angeles County hold if it were its own entity?


The answer cannot be definitively determined by raw vote count. Electoral college votes are distributed on a state-by-state basis, and align to each state’s cumulative number of House and Senate representatives, which itself is tied to population levels determined by the U.S. Census results. 


The Senate component alone, with two for the entire state, is part of why one can’t just separate Los Angeles or any county from the whole of California. Additionally, every state has densely populated urban areas that hold a high number of voters. 


Still, examining the sheer numbers can be instructive, and Los Angeles County stands out for its heft. By Friday afternoon, the county’s vote total was slightly higher than the 4,024,253 ballots that had been tabulated in the state of Washington, which has 12 electoral college votes.


Of the 11 states with more votes cast than Los Angeles County, the closest is Virginia, where 4.4 million ballots had been tabulated. Virginia has 13 electoral college votes. 


Dominating California

California government is headquartered in Sacramento, and Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are all veterans of the San Francisco political scene. Yet, once again, when it comes to the size of the electorate, Los Angeles dominates its counterparts.


Los Angeles County accounts for more than 25% of the votes cast in the state this month. Second on the list is San Diego, where the approximately 1.6 million ballots processed represents about 40% of L.A. County’s total. 


Ballots from California’s largest counties

Voting totals in California counties


San Francisco, meanwhile, ranked ninth on the list of counties with the highest ballot count, with 446,751 votes cast. The tally in Los Angeles County is more than nine times higher than its Bay Area rival.


The number of votes cast in Los Angeles County this year is greater than the cumulative total of the fourth through ninth most-active voting counties in California. Voters in Santa Clara, Riverside, Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento and Riverside together cast 3,960,047 total ballots. 


How we did it: We examined voting results released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and the California Secretary of State. Figures from states outside California were taken from data compiled by The New York Times. All figures were up to date as of the afternoon of Nov. 13, but may have changed with additional ballots received and processed.


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