Why California is taking so long to count ballots as House control hangs in the balance


Los Angeles mayor’s $122million race between U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and real estate mogul Rick Caruso is still too close to call, along with six California home races that could determine the balance powers in Washington, raising an eternal question: Why does California take so long to count its votes?

More than a week after Election Day and as the nation awaits an official call on which party will control the U.S. House of Representatives, attention is turning to some of the standout races in California that could tip the balance. Tuesday was the last day county election officials could accept ballots postmarked on or before Election Day — meaning the Golden State is only just beginning to count some of those ballots that have arrived. late.

California now sends a ballot to every registered voter, a practice that began in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic and eventually became permanent in September 2021 with the goal of increasing access and participation for voters. Under state law, ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must be accepted by county election offices for seven days after the polls close.

The volume of ballots that election officials are currently counting is enormous. In the 2020 elections, more than 15 million mail-in ballots were cast in the general election, about 87% of the total. This year, there were nearly 22 million California voters registered as of mid-October, according to figures from the California secretary of state.

The official solicitation period – the vote tabulation process – will continue until December 8, when county election officials must report their final official results to the Secretary of State (although some counties have set longer deadlines). courts to certify their own electoral results). The California Secretary of State will certify the state’s results by December 16.

“It’s just a huge electorate and in some counties – LA County, Orange County, even Kern County where the [GOP Rep. David] The Valadao race is – there are a lot of people living there and a lot of ballots need to be counted,” said Christian Grose, academic director at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which has studied the electoral administration. “With this next week deadline, the countdown really starts now. They will really finish the counting in the next week or two instead of the immediate day after Election Day. »

The resources available for counting ballots also vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Kern County, where Valdao is defending his seat in a close contest with Democratic state Deputy Rudy Salas, Grose noted, “They only have one ballot-counting machine. It is a choice of funding and resources. They should probably have more than one ballot counting machine.

The count took so long in Valadao’s 2018 race against Democrat TJ Cox that it was the last uncalled House race in the country. Cox narrowly knocked down Valadao that year before the Republican won a rematch in 2020. (This round, Kern County Clerk Mary Bedard told KGET in Bakersfield it could take weeks to count the remaining 70,000 ballots in that county, in part because the county comes from a sorting machine).

Processing every mail-in ballot in California is labor intensive, in part because so many safeguards are built into the process. Once county election officials receive the ballots, they must confirm that the voter has not already voted, verify their signature on the ballot envelope, remove the ballot from the return envelope , then count the votes. There are also additional slices of ballots that take even longer to process, including provisional ballots, ballots from voters who took advantage of same-day voter registration, and damaged ballots. which could not be read by machines.

As of Tuesday night, more than 2.8 million ballots remained to be counted statewide, according to the Secretary of State’s latest report on unprocessed ballots. The secretary of state’s office did not respond to a request for an interview this week about the timeliness of the process. But California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber released a statement late Tuesday saying it could take days or weeks to learn the final results of a number of close contests.

“We have a huge population of registered voters, and California emphasizes enfranchisement, so we have a process that, by law, guarantees both the right to vote and the integrity of elections,” said Weber said in a statement. “I would ask everyone to be patient.”

In Los Angeles County, there were about 565,000 ballots in circulation as of Tuesday. The Los Angeles County Registrar/Registrar does not provide information on the number of remaining ballots by jurisdiction, leaving mayoral campaigns in the dark about how many of those ballots will determine the election. at the town hall of the city or even in which parts of the city they are from. (There are 88 cities in LA County and a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office noted that if they take the extra step of organizing the ballots by jurisdiction, it could lengthen the tally process. ).

In the contest to replace Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, which is limited in time, Bass led Caruso – who spent more than $100 million in the race, much of his own money, compared to around $9 million spent by the Democratic congresswoman. His lead has grown in recent days as more ballots have been tallied. But both campaigns said they remained optimistic about their chances of victory.

Asked about the long processing times for counting ballots in Los Angeles County, Mike Sanchez, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar, said the priority was to ensure that all ballots Eligible votes cast on Election Day and returned by the Postal Service (or left in person at a ballot box or polling center) “are processed, verified and counted – and that takes time.”

“Counties in California have 30 days to process those ballots — which in Los Angeles County can be in the hundreds of thousands — and to certify election results,” he said. “This 30-day period and its activities and timelines are consistent with past election cycles, including the 2020 presidential election.”

California’s nonpartisan redistricting process has also created districts that are more competitive than in many other states, leading to tight races — especially in Orange County, a former Republican stronghold turned battleground where the President Joe Biden made one final campaign shift to help Democratic Rep. Katie Porter. CNN still hasn’t projected a winner in Porter’s race or six other House contests in California (including one between two Democrats), as well as several other House races in Alaska, Colorado, Maine and in Oregon.

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