Newsletter: Don’t panic if state election results take a while

Workers count mail-in and absentee ballots at the L.A. County Registar Recorders Office in Norwalk in November 2014.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 3, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As we head into what’s likely to be one very long election day, I have two words for you: Don’t panic.

Especially when the hour is late and the TV pundits are enthusiastically bemoaning the lack of election results from California. Ignore the conspiracy theories in your Twitter feed. Maybe even consider going to sleep, because it’s unlikely that we’ll see definitive results in competitive races on Tuesday night.


Delayed election results are to be expected in California, and not evidence of some Iowa caucus-style debacle at the polls.

“In most contests we will have a good picture of the outcome on Election Night,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement. “The outcomes of the closest contests may take days or weeks to settle.” To put it simply, these late results are a feature, and not a bug, of our voting system. Here’s why.

As my colleague John Myers noted in his excellent politics newsletter (subscribe here!), perhaps “no state in the nation has as many laws on the books designed to encourage voter participation” as California. This is, at least in theory, a good thing. It means that the state is trying to protect voter rights, and make it as easy as possible for eligible voters to partake in the democratic process. But it also means that it will take time to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all those votes.

[See also: “Why does it take so long to get election results in California?” in the Los Angeles Times]


What takes so long? The answer is largely dependent on three things.

Vote-by-mail ballots: According to Padilla’s press secretary Sam Mahood, vote-by-mail ballots are one of the “key” reasons why California’s vote count process doesn’t end on election night. State law dictates that vote-by-mail ballots can be received up to three days after election day, as long as they are postmarked on or before election day. So county election officials will still be receiving valid ballots on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It could take up to 30 days for county officials to then verify those ballots, depending upon the volume of ballots received.

Same-day voter registration: For eligible citizens who missed the voter registration deadline but still want to vote, California law creates a so-called “safety net” in the form of same-day voter registration. Same-day voter registration for every polling location in the state was signed into law only last fall, meaning this primary will be the first time it’s fully rolled out. As John Myers noted, as of last month there were about 4.5 million Californians who were eligible to vote but not registered. It’s anyone’s guess how many of those 4.5 million will actually show up on Tuesday, but their potential ballots won’t be processed or counted until the county elections office completes a voter registration verification process for them.

Provisional ballots: There are also circumstances where a voter may need to cast a provisional ballot. County election officials carefully check all provisional ballots to confirm that (a) the person who cast the ballot was, in fact, registered to vote, and (b) that they didn’t cast a ballot at any other polling place or mail one in. All of this obviously takes time, which means that provisional ballots are typically counted after election day and vote-by-mail ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office.


The broader lay of the land: Californians will be weighing in on the presidential race, 53 congressional primaries, 120 legislative primaries and one statewide bond measure, along with some local ballot proposals and myriad other local races. The printing, mailing and processing of ballots is all handled at the county level. Each of the 58 counties in California will be processing its own ballots and then sending those results to the secretary of state’s office. Counties are required to complete their vote counts by April 3, and the secretary of state then has until April 10 to certify those statewide results.

“I urge voters to not be alarmed or concerned if they see a headline saying, you know, that there’s a million or two million-plus ballots left to count after the election,” Mahood said. For context, back in the 2016 primary, the state still had well over 2 million ballots to process on the Friday after the election. “It was perfectly normal to see a figure as high as that in California.”

“We’d rather take the time to get it right, to make sure everyone’s vote is counted, than to get all the results on election night,” Mahood said.

Before we get to the rest of the news, a few-last minute resources for voters:

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


As the Democratic primary field narrows, former Vice President Joe Biden fastened his grip on the establishment wing of his party. Two of Biden’s remaining rivals, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have dropped out of the race and thrown their support behind Biden in an accelerating effort to thwart Sen. Bernie Sanders on the eve of Super Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

The U.S. death toll from the new coronavirus rose to six as Washington state officials announced four new deaths, and several new cases were reported in California. WHO officials are still declining to declare COVID-19 a “pandemic,” saying 90% of the cases have been in China. Los Angeles Times

The husband of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey pulled a gun on Black Lives Matter protesters outside the home of the county’s top prosecutor early Monday morning, further heightening tension in a heated primary over the district attorney’s job. Video from the scene shows Lacey’s husband standing in the doorway of their Granada Hills home pointing a gun and shouting, “I will shoot you. Get off of my porch.” During an emotional news conference later that morning, Lacey offered an apology on her husband’s behalf but also derided protesters for what she said was repeated harassment and threats throughout her two terms in office. Los Angeles Times


The scandal over Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies sharing photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash widened Monday when Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged to NBC4 that he ordered the destruction of the images. Los Angeles Times


L.A. officials are getting serious about overhauling this top homeless services agency. There’s a growing consensus that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority needs to be retooled. Yet few can say how or how to make it happen. Los Angeles Times

The L.A. Times now has a plants section (!) and has answered some of your most frequently asked questions about your indoor and outdoor plants. Los Angeles Times

How newcomer Mookie Betts instantly became a clubhouse leader for the Dodgers. It all started with a heartfelt speech at spring training. Los Angeles Times

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The Democratic Party of Orange County said its headquarters was vandalized with white nationalist propaganda over the weekend, in what a party official said was an attempt to intimidate voters just days before California’s presidential primary election. Los Angeles Times

Rep. Devin Nunes is now suing the Washington Post. It’s the Central Valley congressman’s seventh lawsuit in 12 months alleging that he was the victim of defamation or conspiracy. Fresno Bee


The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a third Obamacare appeal — this time from California Democrats trying to save it. Los Angeles Times


UC San Diego has been a leader in climate research. Now the campus is under pressure to slash its greenhouse gases. Los Angeles Times



More than 100 San Diego sites will be part of its annual architectural “open house” this weekend. There will be guided tours and talks for thousands of visitors. San Diego Union-Tribune

The courtyard of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, which will be open for guided tours on Sunday.
The courtyard of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, which will be open for guided tours on Sunday.
(Chris Keeney)

How an American-born Berkeley grad became one of Cambodia’s biggest pop stars with the help of her immigrant mom. NPR

The San Francisco apartment where hard-boiled detective writer Dashiell Hammett lived during the 1920s could be yours, as long as you don’t mind paying $1,850 per month for a 255-square-foot studio. Curbed SF


Sacramento’s Clare Crawley, the new star of “The Bachelorette,” is 38 — and will be 39 when the show airs. Here’s why that matters. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: sunny, 80. San Diego: sunny, 71. San Francisco: sunny, 66. San Jose: sunny, 75. Fresno: sunny, 73. Sacramento: sunny, 77. More weather is here.

For the record: Super Tuesday 2020 is not the earliest California’s primary has been held, as was stated in Monday’s newsletter. The 2008 California presidential primary was held on Feb. 5.


“You can rot here without feeling it.”

- John Rechy on Los Angeles


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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.