San Francisco’s big mail-ballot problem: Too many voters send them in late

By John Wildermuth,
San Francisco Chronicle,
July 15, 2020


San Francisco voters were the second-worst in the state when it came to turning in their mail ballots on time for the March primary election.

More than 9,100 city voters saw their ballots go uncounted either because they weren’t postmarked by the March 3 election day or didn’t arrive in the mail by the March 6 deadline, according to a new study by the California secretary of state.

Statewide, late ballots counted for more than 70% of rejected mail-in votes.

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“If a ballot comes in late, you just can’t accept it,” Artnz said. “That’s why our message in the fall will tell people that if it’s close to election day, don’t use the mailbox, but turn the ballot in at one of our 588 polling places spread across the city.”

In an unreleased study that will be published later this year, the California Voter Foundation found that while young people made up the smallest percentage of those casting mail ballots, they had the highest percentage of ballots rejected.

“Many young people are new voters, and we have to help them do it right,” said Kim Alexander, the foundation’s president. “There are a lot of challenges. They might be unfamiliar with voting and not have much experience with the U.S. Post Office.”

Slow mail isn’t the only reason mail ballots were rejected in March. More than 27,000 weren’t counted because the ballot envelopes were missing signatures or because the signatures didn’t match the ones election officials had on file.

Most people haven’t even looked at their signatures since they first registered to vote, said Alexander.

“Before they sign their ballots, people should look at their driver’s licenses and see the signature there,” she said. “For people who registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles, that’s the signature being used for comparison.”

“When people voted late, a lot of them put their ballots in that big blue (mail) box on election day, not realizing that they wouldn’t be picked up on time,” said John Arntz, San Francisco’s elections chief.