Alex Villanueva

Dramatic & Potentially Historic LA County Sheriff’s Race Will Be Decided By 985,000 Ballots Still To Be Counted

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Will Alex Villanueva be the first challenger to unseat an incumbent in 100 years, for the position of Los Angeles County Sheriff?

Just under a million still-uncounted votes will answer that question.

Almost 60% of the uncounted votes are late coming vote-by-mail ballots, some of which were collected at the polls, others were mailed just before or on election day. Another 40% are provisional ballots, according to a statement released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell & wife Kathy vote

As things stand now, 4,927 votes separate the two men, with Villanueva receiving 820,333 votes to McDonnell’s 815,406.

Both exhausted candidates and their respective supporters, however, will have to wait a while to find out who will lead the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for the next four years, since no one will reportedly even begin counting the last big pile of ballots until this Friday, November 9, as they are still coming in.

Both candidates claim to be upbeat, however. A source close to Sheriff McDonnell’s side of the race said that his campaign people believe that the late-coming ballots will favor the incumbent.

“I’m optimistic about the hundreds of thousands of outstanding vote-by-mail and provisional ballots that have not yet been counted,” the sheriff posted on the campaign’s Facebook page on Wednesday after the initial tally.  “I earned about 58% of the vote-by-mail ballots already processed. There are thousands more ballots in the mail. Every vote should be counted, and every voice should be heard.”

Villanueva told us on Wednesday that he has been led to believe the opposite, that it was his candidacy likely to prevail in the vote-by-mail count.

(By the way, if you’d like to see exactly how various neighborhoods in the county voted for the two candidates, using the votes already counted, the LA Times has a wonderful interactive map.)

The $$ factor

Challenger Villanueva had a small campaign chest of only $156,000 to draw on, next to that of McDonnell’s, $1.2 million from individual donors, plus an $954,000 in additional cash from the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), which is the union for supervisors in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, plus an independent committee funding by a group of business donors.

Villanueva’s ALAD’s sponsored mailer

But Villanueva also had some big bucks extra support, much of it from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, or ALADS, which is the union for the LASD rank-and-file, plus other labor groups, which collectively came up with over $1.3 million for his campaign.

The Neighborhood Safety Coalition, which was basically ALADS, spent much of their cash on glossy mailers, such as the one on the left, painting their guy as “The only candidate for Sheriff endorsed by the Democratic Party.”

Villanueva’s supporters also invested in aggressive phone banking, in which callers—most of them paid, not volunteers—dialed areas dominated by Latino voters, plus heavily Democratic enclaves such as Santa Monica, Topanga, and many parts of the San Fernando Valley, and more.


Mixed backers

As in the primary election, when incumbent Jim McDonnell got 47.87 percent of the vote, but his nearly unknown, cash-poor opponent, surprised most everyone by getting 33.20 percent, in addition to the Latino communities, in the general election, 55-year-old, former LASD lieutenant Villanueva focused  on getting the support democratic clubs and organizations all over the county. According to his website, along with to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Villanueva managed to lock-up the support of approximately 35 other democratic clubs, some of which were very active with get-out-the-vote calls.

Villanueva’s Twitter and Instagram feeds show him appearing at gathering after gathering for many of the regional clubs, some quite small in size, others a lot larger.

His campaign got a large boost, in early August, when ALADS, announced its endorsement of Villanueva.

“Alex is one of us,” wrote ALADS president, Ron Hernandez in a much lengthier statement. “He has over three decades of experience as a deputy, has served in the United States Air Force and the California Army National Guard, and earned a Doctorate in Public Administration while studying the impact of diversity on law enforcement leadership. He has been a tireless advocate for deputies, especially during moments in the department’s history when it was necessary to speak truth to those in power.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell and wife Kathy on election night

Meanwhile, Sheriff McDonnell, who is 59, scooped up endorsements of various well-known county and statewide law enforcement organizations including the California Chiefs of Police, or Cal Chiefs, the California Peace Officers’ Association, the California Asian Peace Officers’ Association, and such local organizations as the Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Officers’ Association.

McDonnell also had far and away the longest list of elected officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, and four out of the five LA County Supervisors, among many others.

“We believe that Sheriff Jim McDonnell has the requisite experience, energy, and commitment to continue to lead one of the nation’s largest and most complicated law enforcement agencies through these particularly difficult times,” said Michele Hanisee, President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, in a statement that accompanied the LAADDA endorsement.

So now what?

According to LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, the ballots we are all waiting for must be verified before they are counted, a process that takes place during what is known as the canvass period.  As this process proceeds, the vote tally will change (obviously) and those climbing numbers will be publicly posted every few days, to let the rest of us know how things are going.

So, if the obsessive among you want to follow along as the tabulating continues (we include ourselves among this group), here is the schedule of those announcements. 

The first announcement was made on Friday, November 9, and now shows Villaneuva still ahead of McDonnell but only by 335 votes.

As you wait for new updates, keep an eye on the excellent series of stories that the LA Times’ Maya Lau, and some of her colleagues, have been doing on the important contest.

Happy nail-biting, whichever candidate you favor.

Note: Story updated on November 10, 11:45 p.m. showing new numbers indicating that Villanueva’s lead was shrinking.


  • Agree. Should he get lucky enough to keep his position, this should be a wake up call for him to focus on the reforms he said he would do when he first took office. Stop his focus on snaps and buckles and rid the exec level that still think the Baca/Tanaka way of doing business is okay.

  • Four year ago, all were ecstatic to see Jim change LASD after the Baca/Tanaka era. Four years later all expect the same from Alex to perform. My point is that it takes tme. I’m sure they hated Peter Pitchess as well when he was appointed to fix a then “rag tag” organization. In the stadium of politics, the loudest noise comes from the cheapest seats. A file photo is in existence of Ron Hernandez grinning with McDonnell 4 years ago.

  • Interesting: Once again you are mistaken. Pitchess came in from the FBI as the second in command. Pitchess would often walk up to deputies and thank them for their commitment to duty. However, Pitchess was hard on his executives. Before Pitchess, Eugene Biscailuz came from the CHP and both men knew how to lead. I’m surprised that you admit that McDonnell is disliked-to say the least. McDonnell is disliked because of shear incompetence and nothing more. McDonnell had his chance and he blew it!
    I hope that Alex Villanueva wins and can do the job! We will need to wait and see.

  • I worked under P.J.P. and personally had conversations (while working Biscailuz Center 1978-80) with him. I among many, am very familiar with LASD history and its beginning. As an retiree with no dog in the fight, only pride, I only speak of what I know. You’re correct as we need to wait and see.

  • This is absolutely a slap in the face to McDonnell. Not only does this show that the hard working men and women of the Department have no faith in him, neither does the communities we serve. He has an unethical command staff that has done just what Tanaka did to Baca, they have kept him in the dark. The LASD needs its house cleaned, and Alex has a plan to do just that and he will carry out that plan, make no mistake about it.

  • @Interesting, please follow up on pointing out that I was in a picture with Jim McDonnell. You left us hanging!

    I can probably guess who you are, based on the years you posted and recent FB posts.

    You do know I didn’t run for Sheriff, right?

  • If Alex pulls this off, everyone needs to give him a chance. No doubt he will clean house, some of it quickly, some of it over time. McD had his chance, he ran on the Fresh Eyes agenda and demonstrated he was really of the Same Old Shit agenda. Alex is beholden to no one. He was pissed on, kicked in the teeth and spat on by everyone during this campaign. He did it his way, the smart way, one day at a time. If he pulls it off, it will truly be a David and Goliath win. Give him time, you just might be pleasantly surprised. Now his ass will be kissed by all the suck butts, and he will see right threw it. All you Tanaka coin holders who survived McD, your days are numbered. You are about to be marginalized! I’d come out of retirement just to help with the Nuremberg Trials that are about to happen. LMAO!

  • C: Can you verify that McD got 58% of mail in ballots? In this new age of non traditional politics (NYT Headline 83% Chance Hillary will win) I haven’t heard that mail in ballots are going to any incumbent?

  • Alex is the latest victor of the blue wave reigning in California. Not being a Trump supporter in this democratic State & County resulted in his victory.

    Viva Villanueva!

  • Hey Spade caller, I’ll join you coming to the trials. I just wish that McTarnish had done the same – and that, my friend, was the beginning of his downfall.

  • McB’s failures since taking over the department is who he surrounded himself with. He and his executives made executive promotions based on friendships instead of ability and knowledge. Look at the Wolak Bros. These guys spend more time checking the sheriff’s calendar to attend functions they knew McB would attend.

    This post was on the Facebook page of Captain Wolak.

    “I generally don’t give advice for elections but I encourage you to reelect Jim McDonell for sheriff. I am fortunate to have witnessed the man’s character. Upon hearing about my mother’s death, he called my family during this difficult time. He was extremely compassionate as he attended her services. He has restored credibility to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and is an experienced leader. Vote Jim McDonnell on November 6.”

    Although I have sympathy, something like this would have garnered Jason another promotion. What is even funnier is the Facebook page has been removed. They must be worried.

    No need to worry Jason I was able to screen shot the page and forwarded the post to alex, along with the photograph of you and your brothers at McB’s party.

  • Let’s hope that the new Sheriff Villanueva immediately exposes and expels the recognizable bad things in LASD. It’s doable but will not be easy. There will be more than one Judas during his term, as in the he presentation of psalm leaves and then shouts of “crucify him” soon after his term begins. Mark my words……

  • Thank God we will be having a new Sheriff in town. Alex is exactly what the Department needs. Not only did he grow with department, but most importantly, he knows all the Tanaka clones. He is far too knowledgeable who is qualified to hold key executive positions and all the social promotions will finally come to an end.

  • McDonnell has to be very worried today…what goes around, comes around…KARMA! Someone’s going to be looking for a job soon. I don’t think even LAPD or Long Beach will take him back…

  • As of 12: 30 P:M today (11-14-2018; Wednesday) reports that “there are 688,000 votes left to be counted.”

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