Taking a long time to count California votes is OK with voters, poll finds

Victoria Williams processes a mail-in ballot at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in the state capital in 2012.
Victoria Williams processes a mail-in ballot at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in the state capital in 2012.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Learning the final outcome in a California election can take weeks but the reason for that delay — laws that offer more time and methods to vote — outweighs the frustration, according to a new statewide poll.

The survey, conducted for the Los Angeles Times by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, found that 64% of voters surveyed want to keep offering additional ways to cast a ballot even if it takes longer to finalize election results.

“Californians are actually OK with that,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS poll. “They put a much higher priority on giving voters maximum opportunities.”


Over the span of two decades, lawmakers and elections officials have revamped voting laws to allow more time and more places for the state’s eligible citizens to vote. In 2002, Californians were allowed to permanently register for voting by mail, erasing the traditional rules that required an excuse like travel or illness for casting an absentee ballot. Almost two-thirds of the state’s 20.6 million voters now receive a ballot in the mail for every election.

And they often turn them in at the last minute. In 2015, a state law allowed any mailed ballot to be counted as long as it is postmarked by election day and arrives by the following Friday. Because local elections officials usually stop sorting mailed ballots the weekend before election day, they must start from scratch with millions more after the polls close at 8 p.m. on election day.

The Times/Berkeley poll found 89% of voters approve the three-day law for counting ballots.

Ballots are also easier to turn in than they once were, as some counties offer dozens of drop boxes and vote centers and one designated person can turn in multiple ballots of family members and acquaintances. Elections officials also now offer an absentee voter who forgot to sign the ballot envelope, or whose election signature doesn’t closely match the one on a file, a chance to clear up the confusion.

One of the most impactful laws is new to this week’s statewide primary, requiring all election sites to offer voter registration until the polls close on Tuesday. So-called same-day registration offers one more chance for Californians who become motivated to participate in the waning hours of the campaign season. In the poll, the 2019 law was supported by 83% of those surveyed.

The only notable disagreement over the new laws was found by political party affiliation. While 76% of Democrats saw increased voter opportunity as more important than a fast count, only 39% of Republicans agreed. Sixty percent of GOP voters in the poll favored a speedy tally of votes more than the laws designed to boost access. Voters unaffiliated with a political party largely agreed with Democrats in the survey, with 65% favoring expanded voter choices over how long it takes to count ballots.


Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has championed several of the laws expanding the rights of voters, said he hoped Californians would continue to gradually change their expectations of what used to be a one-day election process.

“The poll certainly reaffirms what we’ve believed for a long time,” he said. “Given the spotlight on elections in the last four years, it’s not a surprise that most people appreciate the value of these laws.”