Who will be L.A.'s next mayor? Bass-Caruso race tightens with more counted votes

Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso.
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A new batch of votes was released Thursday by election officials in the race for mayor of Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the United States. The most recent results show businessman Rick Caruso, a former Republican who eventually turned Democrat, leading U.S. Rep. Karen Bass by fewer than 3,000 votes, at 50.25% to 49.75%.

Some reports say it could take weeks before the race is called, but 59% of the expected votes are already in, and the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office said the next ballot count would drop on Friday.

In L.A.’s mayoral primary, which also included the embattled City Council member Kevin de León, Caruso, a billionaire developer who has spent $100 million of his own money on the campaign, led early. However, Bass ended up defeating the competition, though she did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Supporters, one wearing a baseball cap and one with a poster, both carrying his name, cheer Rick Caruso.
Caruso supporters at his election night celebration Tuesday at the Grove in Los Angeles. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Rick Caruso was leading on the primary election night. But over the course of the following two to three weeks, as the ballots were counted, Karen Bass saw a surge in support from those mail-in ballots,” Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, told Yahoo News.

“Who knows what's going to happen this time?" she said. "It's certainly much closer now than it was at the primary stage. But it doesn't surprise me that there are shifts and changes as we continue to collect these ballots.”

The county registrar/clerk’s office said an estimated 883,300 votes are still being processed: 862,000 vote-by-mail ballots; 21,000 Conditional Voter Registration ballots (for California voters who register on Election Day and need their verification to be processed before their vote can be counted); and 300 provisional ballots (for voters whose eligibility is uncertain and must be verified for their vote to count).

A family member of the Los Angeles mayoral candidate holds two signs, one saying Latinos for Karen Bass and the other saying Karen Bass for Mayor.
Family members of Bass at her election night party at the Hollywood Palladium. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Now the two camps are left in a waiting game, as the county processes votes. The estimated number of votes is likely to rise as an outstanding number of vote-by-mail ballots that were postmarked for Election Day are received through Nov. 15, according to the county registrar/clerk’s office. The office says these votes will be processed in the official election canvass, a 30-day period during which it will make sure every eligible vote is counted.

“California and L.A. County, in particular, have embarked on the journey of voter accessibility,” Sadhwani said. “We allow voters to vote by mail, by drop box, in person, in person for the week prior at vote centers — doesn't need to be in their home precinct, they can vote anywhere in Los Angeles County, so it takes time to process and count all of those ballots.

“What we saw, especially given the rain, [is] probably a lot of people on Election Day who were planning to vote in person ended up dropping off ballots. So all of those need to be certified and opened and counted. That simply takes time.”

Rep. Karen Bass, in bright-red suit, at the microphone.
Bass at her election night party. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, both fists in the air, at the microphone, with his family behind him on stage.
Caruso rallies the crowd at his election night headquarters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The stakes in this election are high. With two Democrats in the running — Caruso having changed his party affiliation in January — both candidates have focused their campaigns on two topics important to many L.A. residents: crime and homelessness. Both sides have called the unhoused issue in L.A. a “crisis.”

Caruso has vowed that if he wins, he will activate a state of emergency on “day one” in office that would end only when the unhoused have adequate housing and supportive services. He has said he would demand assistance from the state and federal governments. His plan also includes a push to build 30,000 interim housing interventions in his first 300 days.

In front of a huge mural of a Hispanic woman, a homeless person, shopping cart at his side, lies down on a blanket on the kerb.
In Los Angeles in April, a homeless person finds relief in the shade under an overpass in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (Reuters/David Swanson)
Four tents housing the homeless line a downtown sidewalk.
Tents housing the homeless line the sidewalk of a street in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 8. (Zeng Hui/Xinhua)

Bass’s plan focuses on housing 15,000 people by the end of year one and building more “temporary, affordable and permanent supportive housing.” She also hopes to end street encampments, a massive problem throughout the city, and to focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

In the June primary, Bass tallied a little more than 46,000 votes than Caruso.