Counting votes

By Foon Rhee,
Sacramento News & Review,
September 17, 2020


California is notoriously slow counting all the ballots and calling final election results. This November will likely take even more time with a record avalanche of mail ballots expected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it’s still seven weeks until Election Day, that’s the message officials are already trying to get out in hopes of avoiding confusion and concern among voters.

Worries are particularly high in the presidential race, in which many more Republicans are expected to vote in person and more Democrats by mail. Experts say that scenario could create a “red mirage” the night of Nov. 3, when President Trump could take the lead in battleground states—then generate a “blue shift” in the days, and even weeks, afterward as mail-in votes get counted. President Trump—who is already railing against mail ballot fraud and a spinning conspiracy theories of a rigged election—could declare victory prematurely. And that could create a constitutional crisis if Democrat Joe Biden eventually—and actually—wins.

To a lesser extent, similar reversals could happen in close congressional races, statewide ballot measures and local contests. It happened in November 2018, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House and flipped seven seats in California, including several late-declared wins.

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According to two new studies out this week, younger and newer voters may not be as ready for the greater emphasis on voting by mail. “It shifts responsibility for getting it right from poll workers to voters,” says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

Monday, the nonprofit released a study concluding that over the past decade, 1.7% of mail ballots were rejected in California. In November 2018, while 1% of all mail ballots were rejected, of those cast by 18 to 24-year-olds, 2.3% were rejected in Sacramento County, 2.5% in Santa Clara and 3.5% in San Mateo.

In Sacramento, the most common reason for ballot rejection was the signature on the ballot not matching the one on file, while in Santa Clara and San Mateo it was the ballot arriving late.

“Young voters have several factors working against them,” Alexander said in a statement. “They are new to voting, less familiar with the U.S. Mail and lack experience making a signature.”

So despite COVID-19, a bigger share of younger voters said they prefer to cast their ballots in person this November than other age groups, but nearly 45% of them don’t know or aren’t sure where to find information on polling places, according to another study released Monday, this one by the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

That study also found that while 42% of California voters say they prefer to vote by mail this election, 31% prefer to vote in person and another 17% want to drop off their mail ballot in person.

Though 14% said they were concerned about contracting COVID-19 while voting, 12% were worried their ballot wouldn’t be counted and 10% were concerned they would not get their ballot. And that was before the headlines of the Trump-appointed postmaster general undermining the U.S. Postal Service and warning of mail ballot delays.

The study’s authors say the findings show the need for in-person early voting sites and clear messaging to voters about all their options. All California voters—young and old—can also sign up for mail ballot tracking to make sure it arrives in time and gets counted.

It shouldn’t be controversial for every vote to be counted. But this election, that’s one more thing to worry about. (Full Story)