Fact: Vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots are less likely to be counted than those cast in person. Everything has to be filled out properly, a voter’s signature has to match those on file with the county registrar and most importantly, they have to show up on time.
Compared to other states, the rejection rate of vote-by-mail ballots in California ranks among the highest in the nation. More than 65,000 VBM ballots in California went uncounted in 2012, according to Pew Charitable Trusts estimates.
Considering more than half of California voters now vote by mail, it’s a serious problem if tens of thousands are disenfranchised, many times without even knowing it. Anyone following the June primary race for state controller knows that the margin of victory can be as slim as 400 votes.
A new report released by the California Voter Foundation reveals that the majority simply arrive too late to be counted. Existing law stipulates that vote-by-mail ballots must be received, not postmarked, by 8:00 pm on Election Day to be counted in California.
You’re probably thinking that people should just get their ballot in earlier. If you snooze you lose, right? But the thing is, last-minute procrastinators aren’t the only ones negatively impacted. Recent post office closures have delayed the processing and delivery of vote-by-mail ballots, such as in Santa Cruz County where VBM ballots are now processed in Santa Clara County before returning back to Santa Cruz. As a result, even ballots mailed days ahead of the deadline can arrive too late.
A bill pending in the Assembly would offset the impact of the closures by extending the deadline. In an effort to reduce the number of disqualified VBM ballots, SB 29 would allow vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days after the polls closed to be counted. More than 10 other states have extended the deadline for returning VBM ballots.
By significantly reducing the number of disqualified VBM ballots, proponents argue the measure helps ensure all Californians make their voice heard through the ballot box. Watch the above video to hear Santa Cruz County Registrar Gail Pellerin explain why 537 ballots in her county alone were rejected in the primary. It’s not an isolated incident either as the same California Voter Foundation report found that 70 percent of disqualified VBM ballots in Santa Cruz for statewide elections between 2008 and 2012 were rejected because they arrived late.