For the first time in California history, a ballot will make its way in the mail this week to every registered California voter, a decision made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that will reshape the election experience as well as the strategies of campaigns and candidates.
More than 21 million ballots will be mailed, more than in any state in the nation. Most will arrive this week, though some counties began the process almost two weeks ago. State law requires absentee ballots to be mailed no later than Monday, 29 days before the Nov. 3 election.
Few states have moved more decisively toward voting by mail over the last two decades than California, and the results have been striking. At least two-thirds of the ballots cast in the three most recent statewide elections had been mailed to voters, peaking at 72% of all votes recorded in the March primary.
Even so, millions of voters have bucked the trend and continued to vote in person on election day, and millions more don’t often participate or are newly registered. Should those two groups decide to use the ballot that arrives in the mail, they will have to abide by voting rules that might not be easily understood.
“Yes, it’s a big convenience,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “But it shifts the responsibility for getting all the steps right from a poll worker to the voter.”
Researchers have estimated that the average California election in the last decade saw an average of 1.7% of vote-by-mail ballots
rejected for a variety of reasons. Based on voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election — which some think will be surpassed this year — the historical average would translate into almost 250,000 ballots not being counted.
Last month, Alexander’s organization released a detailed review of rejected absentee ballots in three counties from the November 2018 election. The top three reasons were that voters returned them too late, they didn’t sign the ballot envelope or the signature provided didn’t match the one on file.
“We have this persistent, stubborn ballot rejection problem,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking when people’s ballots are rejected.”
Even though they are mailed a ballot, some Californians will undoubtedly insist on participating in person. Voting by mail has not been popular everywhere — most notably in Los Angeles County, home to more than 5.6 million voters.
“In L.A. County, the data shows that we cannot rely on a single option for voting,” said Dean Logan, the county’s registrar of voters. “Voting by mail is a great safeguard. But we know, based on the data, that there are communities and voters across L.A. County that prefer to vote in person or need the services provided by voting in person.” (Full Story)