The final results from California’s presidential primary might not be known until late April, after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave local elections officials additional time to tally the votes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsom issued an executive order on Friday adding 21 days for California counties to report results from the March 3 statewide primary. By law, counties normally have 30 days after an election to complete the official count and submit those numbers to the secretary of state.
The latest tabulations prior to the governor’s actions showed 313,739 ballots yet to be examined across the state’s 58 counties. Almost one-fifth of those ballots were cast in Los Angeles County, where a series of problems with ballot marking devices and electronic registration tablets hindered in-person voting in many locations on election day.
Newsom also ordered additional time for communities considering a switch from at-large to district elections for local offices. And he directed elections officials to use only vote-by-mail procedures for three special elections to be held this spring.
Several California counties have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, affecting a variety of local government services. That has included the counting of presidential ballots — county staff members have been sent home to slow the spread of the virus. In some rural communities, ballot counting is done by older volunteers who may be more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Incomplete returns show Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with more than 35% of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary, with former Vice President Joe Biden in second place and garnering 28% of the vote. Under Democratic Party rules, the two men would both be awarded some of the 144 delegates up for grabs based on the statewide total. An addtional 271 delegates are awarded by the top vote-getters in each of California’s 53 congressional districts. Other Democratic hopefuls, even those who have withdrawn from the race, could end up winning some of those delegates once the vote is certified.
The order by Newsom means final tallies aren’t due until April 24. Those results will now be certified on May 1.
“Our democracy will not be halted by this pandemic,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a written statement. “We will adapt to new circumstances and continue to provide free and fair elections for our citizens.”
Switching to absentee ballots for the three upcoming special elections — in the 25th Congressional District in northern Los Angeles County and part of Ventura County, the 25th state Senate District in Riverside County and a recall election involving three City Council members in Westminster — avoids the challenges of social distancing at voting locations. The order does not, however, prohibit early in-person voting as long as public health guidelines are followed.
Newsom issued a series of executive orders over recent days in response to the coronavirus crisis, most notably a mandatory stay-at-home directive for all Californians who don’t work in essential services operations. Public health concerns have grown steadily in the short time period since voters across the state cast ballots.