LOS ANGELES - Election Day is finally upon us, but Los Angeles County voters have already been turning out in droves, with about 3 million people already casting ballots, heeding the call to vote early and help alleviate long lines and expedite results.
As of Sunday night, more than 2.9 million people had cast ballots, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's Office.
That total included more than 2.5 million mail ballots -- received either in the mail or from drop boxes -- and nearly 391,400 ballots cast in person at one of the 791 early vote centers in the county.
According to the registrar's office, 64,000 ballots were cast at vote centers on Sunday alone. By early afternoon Monday, 40,700 ballots had been cast at the centers.
The Sunday night totals put the turnout so far at 50.8%, according to the county.
The ballot drop boxes have proven to be particularly popular. According to the county registrar, more than 1.3 million ballots have been returned in the boxes, representing more than half of the mail ballots that have been returned.
Any registered voter in the county can cast a ballot at any vote center, regardless of location and the voter's home address. Residents can either use the voting machines at the center or drop off the mail-in ballots that were sent to every registered voter. The centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The vote center concept replaces the traditional precinct system, which required voters to cast ballots at designated locations on election day. Election officials hope the availability of vote centers will encourage people to cast their ballots early, reducing the possibility of long lines at polling places on election night.
In addition to helping prevent long lines on election night, election officials say voting early will also help speed the process of ballot-counting.
According to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's Office, a tally of all vote-by-mail ballots -- including those deposited in drop boxes -- received prior to election day will be released within 30 minutes of the polls closing at 8 p.m. A short time later, a tally will be released of all in-person ballots cast at vote centers ahead of Election Day.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, county election officials this year were authorized to begin opening and processing vote-by-mail ballots up to 29 days before Election Day, although no results can be released until after the polls close on Tuesday. In past years, counties could not begin processing any ballots until 10 days before an election. The rules were adjusted this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anticipated surge in vote-by-mail balloting.
Although election officials urged people to vote early, people who wait until the last minute can still get their ballots in. New rules this year allow the counting of any mail-in ballot that is postmarked by Tuesday and received as late as Nov. 20.
Officials have 30 days after the election to tally all ballots and certify the results.
"On Election Night, we will have a good picture of most contests, but the outcomes of close contests may take days or weeks to settle. This is normal," Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement.
The shift to regional voting centers instead of local precincts means it will be more difficult for the public and media outlets to track what percentage of votes have been counted on election night and how many remain to be tallied.
The previous precinct model allowed observers to track the percentage of precincts that have had their ballots counted -- giving an idea of how many votes still needed to be tallied. But the new vote center system allowing people to cast a ballot wherever they like regardless of residence means it won't be known how many additional ballots are yet to be counted at any point on election night.