Former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna maintained and even slightly extended his lead Thursday over incumbent Alex Villanueva in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff.
Updated totals from the Tuesday election showed Luna with nearly 58% of the vote, and Villanueva with just over 42%. Semi-official results released early Wednesday morning had Luna with 57% and Villanueva with 43%.
The updated total released Thursday had Luna with a total of 770,084 votes and Villanueva with 563,482.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office on Wednesday estimated that roughly 1 million ballots still remained to be counted — 985,000 vote-by-mail ballots, 21,000 conditional voter-registration ballots and 300 provisional, or questioned, ballots.
The update released Thursday included a tally of 134,099 of those outstanding ballots, according to the county. Another update is expected to be released Friday, then every Tuesday and Friday until all ballots are counted — a process that could last until the end of the month.
“So far, the returns look good, and our campaign has a significant lead,” Luna said in a statement Wednesday. “And I believe that as more votes are counted in the days ahead, I’ll continue to maintain a lead in this race. L.A. County voted for change, and if I’m elected sheriff, I’ll bring new leadership, accountability, and effective strategies to reduce crime.”
Luna is looking to pull off a rare feat by unseating a sitting sheriff.
Villanueva’s victory four years ago over incumbent Jim McDonnell marked the first time in roughly a century that a sheriff had lost a re- election bid in the county. But now Villanueva finds himself in danger of meeting the same fate at the hands of Luna.
The sheriff expressed confidence, however, that he would make up the deficit from early balloting as vote counting continued over the coming week.
“Let’s see what the vote says,” he told KCAL9 at his Monterey Park election night party Tuesday. “… I think people just want to see the things that matter to them addressed — homelessness and violent crime.”
Luna, speaking to his supporters in Long Beach Tuesday night, noted that the vote-counting will take a long time, but said he feels good about the direction of the numbers.
“As I have met so many people throughout this great county, there was one thing that was very obvious to me … people were talking about the need for change,” Luna said.
He said that as sheriff, he will be “accountable at the end of the day,” and will work to ensure “integrity” in the department.
The candidates ran a spirited campaign, with Luna attacking the incumbent over his torrid relationship with the county Board of Supervisors and accusing him of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department. Villanueva has deflected such criticism, saying his battles with the board show he is a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting that he has gone to great lengths to attack and ban alleged deputy cliques in the agency.
Villanueva’s victory four years ago came with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats. But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters. He has also repeatedly defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.
Villanueva’s campaign insists he has worked to restore public trust in the sheriff’s department, pointing to the rollout of body-worn cameras and boosting minimum requirements for new deputies. The campaign also boasts the agency is “the most diverse in the nation.”
“In his next term, Sheriff Villanueva will work to reduce violent crime, compassionately clean up homeless encampments and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” according to his campaign.
Luna has argued during the campaign that the sheriff’s department is being “mismanaged” by Villanueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff’s department.
“Growing up in East Los Angeles, patrolled by the sheriff’s department, opened my eyes to examples of both good and bad policing, and inspired my 36-year career in law enforcement,” Luna said in a candidate statement.
He said he will work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.