Here’s why we don’t have a final count yet in L.A.’s election
Although it might seem like it’s taking a long time to count the ballots from Los Angeles County’s primary election 10 days ago, officials say the process is moving along on schedule, with a final tally likely by July 1.
So far, more than 1.2 million ballots have been counted and publicly released countywide, with another vote total update scheduled for Friday.
Officials say 80% of the ballots counted so far were either mailed in or dropped off at voting centers or drop boxes — many of them in the final days of the voting period that concluded June 7.
That has created a massive post-election pileup for workers who process the ballots.
“Campaigns and candidates, news outlets — they want their results now,” Michael Sanchez, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder, said Thursday. “The reality is that we have to verify every single ballot. We have to process every single ballot before we tally it, and that takes time and that takes resources.”
What’s different about this election?
A state law passed last year requires that ballots be mailed to all voters for statewide elections in June and November. The law also applies to local elections. (Voters were also sent ballots in the 2020 election and the 2021 recall election targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom.)
In this election, many voters in Los Angeles County used vote-by-mail ballots and waited to either mail or drop them off.
“The largest number of ballots were returned leading up to and on election day,” Sanchez said. “What that ultimately means is our office has a larger number of ballots to process after election day.”
When every vote is counted, officials expect the vote-by-mail total to exceed the current 80%.
By comparison, about 45% of votes cast in the November 2018 election were vote-by-mail ballots. In the November 2020 election, about 80% of voters used vote-by-mail ballots.
The late crush has led to the lead flipping from early returns in high-profile races, including Los Angeles mayor and L.A. council District 1 races.
Other statewide changes in recent years have sought to make it easier for voters. Voters have seven days to return ballots postmarked by election day, rather than the three days that they once had.
“With the laws that have been written to be more inclusive, allowing more voters to participate and extending deadlines for mail-in ballots, the process takes longer to count,” Douglas Herman, Rep. Karen Bass’ campaign strategist, said Thursday. “That’s not a bad thing, that’s just democracy at work.”
Why can’t votes be counted faster?
The vote-by-mail ballots are sorted at a large building in the city of Industry. The building, which formerly housed a Fry’s electronics store, resembles a warehouse. Hundreds of employees and temporary workers sit at tables under bright overhead lights.
The workers use a scanner to check the signatures on the back of the envelopes and make sure they match the signature on voters’ registration record or drivers’ license.
If there isn’t a match, staff manually compare the signatures.
After that, workers study the ballots to make sure they aren’t stained or have multiple marks.
After the ballots are processed, they are put in a box and sent to a facility in Downey. They are tallied electronically twice a week and the results are put out publicly.
For security reasons, the counting machines aren’t connected to an external network.
Sanchez said that it’s not taking longer to count votes this election, despite the number of vote-by-mail ballots. The county is adequately staffed to process and tally the votes, he said.
The county plans to certify the results by July 1. But many of the ballots will be counted by Tuesday, he said. By law, the results must be certified within 30 days of the election.
Was there anything else different with the election?
Political consultants have pointed out that vote-by-mail ballots traditionally have been cast by older, more conservative voters. Those voters tend to cast ballots earlier in an election.
But now it’s clear that many voters, including progressives, are also using vote-by-mail ballots.
David Benning, president of the San Fernando Valley Republican Club, said he’s a longtime vote-by-mail voter. He said a “surprising number” of his club’s members have historically voted in person.
“They like to vote in person and on election day,” Benning said. “They like to see the ballot go in the box. That’s what they trust.”
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