Why does it take California so long to count votes?

By Sameea Kamal,
CAL Matters
March 19, 2024


Two weeks plus one day after voting ended in California’s primary, there are 108,000 ballots left to be counted, and a dozen congressional and legislative races remain too close to call. 

While the uncounted ballots are less than about 2% of the 7.7 million cast, readers have again asked why it takes so long for California to finish counting votes.

California started mailing ballots to all registered voters for the November 2020 election. This year, about 50% of ballots cast were counted on primary night March 5, compared to 41% in June 2022, according to data from the California Voter Foundation. 

But processing mail-in ballots can take time. Any ballots postmarked by March 5 and received by March 12 still get counted. Also, there are a number of steps county elections offices take to ensure the integrity of each voter’s ballot, some of which can’t start until after election day. And counties have varying levels of staffing or resources that can impact how quickly the work is done. As of Wedensday night, 13 of 58 counties reported completing their tallies. 

“It’s not just about counting ballots, although that is critically important,” said Ryan Ronco, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and registrar of voters for Placer County. “It’s also about counting ballots accurately with staff that you have that can commit to that project — knowing that there are also other legally required projects that we need to complete during this period.”

Those counties that have finished counting include several small ones, but also a few larger ones such as San Francisco. California’s most populous county, Los Angeles, has counted more than 1.6 million ballots, and has about 4,000 left to go.  (Full Story)