California Cliffhanger Elections Will Be Decided Without Thousands of Late Ballots

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

With the statewide Controller’s race and other close local contests still up in the air, thousands of late absentee ballots cast in California’s June 3 election will not be counted even if they were dropped in the mail days before votes were tallied.

That’s because the postmark doesn’t matter. Absentee ballots, which account for more than half the votes cast, must be in official hands by the time the polls close and there are few exceptions.

There is no way to tell how many ballots were delayed by problems at the postal service, but anyone who voted absentee and also got burned last Sunday when their Father’s Day card suspiciously did not arrive on time has to wonder if they actually participated in the election.

Political Data Inc. Vice President Paul Mitchell said that an extrapolation of data by his company from 18 of California’s 58 counties projected that more than 30,000 mail-in ballots were rejected as late in 2012. About half of them were from voters under 30.

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine told KPCC Tuesday that 20,735 ballots showed up too late to count this year. She has been tracking the numbers for the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials.

Although the late ballots are tossed, others are still being counted. Tens of thousands of provisional ballots, cast by voters who for one reason or another were denied an immediate vote, are still being reviewed. Signatures for some 400,000 of the 2 million absentee voters are also checked against registration or DMV signatures and can be problematic if they registered a long time ago.

Meanwhile, former Assembly Speaker John Pérez and California Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, both Democrats, and Republican California City Mayor David Evans are locked in a battle to see who squares off next November for state Controller against apparent primary winner Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Pérez, Evans and Yee have exchanged the lead for second place a few times since the polls closed and the margin has been only a few hundred votes.

Los Angeles accounts for around 2,400 of the late ballots, LaVine said, which would be bad news for Pérez. He finished first in Los Angeles County with 28.1% of the vote, compared to 23.9% for Swearengin and 23% for Yee.

State lawmakers are considering changing the law about ballot counting. Senate Bill 29 would allow ballots dated and postmarked before the election to be included if they are received within three days of the election. Critics of the bill argue that voters who wait until the last second to vote would simply wait even later than usual.

Stanislaw County Registrar Lee Lundrigan told KCRA that she feared her staff would have to deal with a lot of hard-to-decipher postmarks days after the election. “You would see a bunch of people sitting around looking like they did at chads in Florida,” she said, an allusion to the presidential race in 2004 that the U.S. Supreme Court awarded to George W. Bush when it decided a quick pick was more important than a slow, careful vote count.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Thousands of California Mail-In Ballots Too Late to Count (by Michael R. Blood, Associated Press)

Controller Cliffhanger Race Hinges on Tardy Mail-in Ballots (by Sharon McNary, KPCC)

1,000+ Sacramento Vote-by-Mail Ballots Arrive Too Late (by David Bienick, KCRA)

The Dirty Secret of Vote Counting (by Paul Mitchell, Special to the Sacramento Bee)

Democrats May Be Without a Candidate for Controller in November (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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