Here's when and how California midterm election results will roll in

By Chris Nichols,
March 4, 2024


Once the final ballots are mailed-in, placed in a drop box or cast in-person for California’s March 5 primary election, the attention will turn to the results.

But how quickly will those be made public? And will they tell us the outcome of the races right away?

Election officials and experts say the results will arrive in three separate waves on election night, with the first being released shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. on March 5.

The first wave will consist of results from the early-arriving vote-by-mail ballots, likely the ones that arrived a few days — or weeks — before the election, Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, told CapRadio in 2022.

The early results will show up on the California Secretary of State’s website. But they won’t necessarily be enough to determine the outcome of close races. 

County elections staff are allowed to pre-process mail ballots that arrive in their offices before election day. 

“They all take advantage of that opportunity to get as many of those ballots processed and signatures verified and envelopes opened and ballots ready to tabulate as they can,” Alexander said.

Once those steps are complete, counties tally the ballots using high-speed scanning machines. That allows them to disseminate the early, partial results within minutes or seconds, she added.

The second and third wave of results will be released likely by about 10 p.m. and midnight on election night. Those will be from ballots cast in-person on election day at voting sites.

After those three batches are published, some candidates with large leads might declare victory. But the outcome of tight races might not be known for days or weeks as the remaining mail ballots arrive at election offices.

In recent years, California has largely shifted away from in-person voting. More than 87% of ballots cast in the state’s November 2022 election, for example, were by mail. Back in 2004, only one-third of the ballots were cast by mail.

Alexander said the shift to mail ballots offers greater convenience for voters, but also delays results because election staff must spend more time verifying signatures and handling late-arriving ballots.

“We have this election night tradition of parties and news coverage and excitement,” Alexander said. “That tradition needs to be adjusted because we no longer have election day and election night. We have ballot counting month.” (Full Story)