The number of Californians voting by mail has skyrocketed in recent years. A record-breaking 69 percent of voters in the June 2014 primary cast their ballots by mail. And more than one million vote-by-mail ballots have already been cast for the November general election, according to Political Data Inc. But along with the added convenience of being able to fill out your ballot from the comfort of your couch comes greater risk of your ballot being rejected.
Tens of thousands of vote by mail ballots go uncounted in every statewide election. A study by the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change found that California rejected 2.9 percent of all vote by mail ballots cast in the year’s primary, nearly twice the rejection rate in the 2012 primary. While that may seem insignificant, it equates to 91,000 ballots. In the last mid-term election, more mail-in ballots went uncounted in California than in any other state, according to Pew’s Elections Performance Index.
New research reveals the top three reasons vote by mail ballots are rejected in California are: late arrival, signature irregularities, and no signature. The Future of California Elections (FoCE), a coalition of organizations including California Forward, recently hosted an event launching a campaign to help policymakers, elections administrators, civic organizations and the media educate voters on how to prevent those errors from happening.
Kicking off the event, California Voter Foundation’s Kim Alexander and UC-Davis’ Mindy Romero of the California Civic Engagement Project each presented findings from their research on unsuccessful vote-by-mail ballots. Alexander and Romero then joined Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine and California Calls’ Karla Zombro in a panel discussion, moderated by the Public Policy Institute of California’s Dave Lesher, on how to reduce California’s high vote-by-mail ballot rejection rate.
The expert panelists urged California voters to follow these tips to ensure their vote by mail ballots are counted:
- Mail your ballot the week prior to the election to ensure it arrives in time to be counted. Earlier is even better. A ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarks don’t count, yet (not until Jan 2015).
- Remember to sign the ballot envelope. If you forget to sign the envelope your ballot won’t be counted.
- Make sure to sign your name on the return envelope the same way as when you registered to vote. If the signature doesn’t compare to the on file, your ballot won’t be counted. If you registered to vote online, check your ID, or driver’s license signature to make sure your ballot envelope signature will match.
- If you didn’t mail your ballot the week before the election, return it in person. You can drop off your ballot at county election offices or to any polling place within your county by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
- If you make a mistake or lose your ballot you can still vote. You can seek replacement ballots from your county elections office or get a provisional ballot at your polling place on Election Day.
FOCE also released a free toolkit including sample news releases and social media messaging that can be used by election officials, civic engagement groups, news organizations and anyone else interested in helping voters cast timely and valid vote-by-mail ballots.
Missed the event or want to learn more about common vote-by-mail errors? Watch the video recording of the entire discussion above.
P.S. today is the last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot!