News Roundup: Long vote counts, drop box access & 11/7 Election Hero Day

By Kim Alexander,
November 3, 2022

Hi Folks,

The November 8th Election Day is rapidly approaching. Millions of Californians have already voted and millions more will return ballots or vote in person in the coming days, with many ballots returned via secure drop boxes operated by county election offices. 

This shift to the widespread use of vote-by-mail ballots has led to increasingly longer vote counts. In this newsletter, we share some new CVF research findings that illustrate just how much longer vote counting now takes as the number of ballots cast as vote-by-mail ballots has ballooned. 

We also looked at voters' access to secure ballot drop boxes across California's 58 counties. The good news: today, over 99% of California voters have access to a 24-hour drop box where they can return their voted ballots. More findings are below from CVF's survey of drop box access throughout California. 

Voters looking for last-minute election information can turn to CVF's California Online Voter Guide for trustworthy, nonpartisan election information. Use our Online Voter Tools - Check Your Status page to find out how you can check your voter registration status, ballot status, or find a voting site or drop box location, and our Contact Your County Election Office directory for last-minute voting questions.

And please mark your calendars and plan to join CVF on November 7th in celebrating Election Hero Day! Bring flowers to election workers, support them on social media with the hashtag 

#ThankYouElectionHeroes, and make a point of showing your support for democracy's frontline workers. They need it now more than ever. 

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder
California Voter Foundation

The Long Count - Why Election Results Take Longer

The California Voter Foundation is urging the news media and campaigns to exercise patience and caution when reporting November 8th election results and refrain from attempting to "call" races on Election Night. 

In recent years, the percentage of ballots cast as vote-by-mail ballots has dramatically increased. These ballots take longer to process than traditional polling place ballots.

A CVF analysis of November 2004 election results compared to June 2022 election results found that:

  • In November 2004, less than one-third (32.6%) of the election's ballots were cast as vote-by-mail ballots, and over 80% (80.7%) of all ballots cast were counted within two days of Election Day.
  • In June 2022, over 90% (91.2%) of the election's ballots were cast as vote-by-mail ballots, and less than half (49.6%) were counted within two days of Election Day.
  • In June 2022, as of 10:40 pm on Election Night, only 3 million of the total 7.3 million ballots cast - 41% - had been counted. 

Vote-by-mail ballots take longer to process than in-person ballots since each one arrives in an envelope bearing a voter's signature that must be verified against the voter's registration signature on file before the envelope is opened, and the ballot is extracted, flattened, scanned, and counted. Sometimes ballots tear or are stained and must be remade by teams of election workers to be scanned and counted. Other procedures are followed to ensure no voters can cast more than one ballot. 

Sealed bags of vote-by-mail ballots collected from drop boxes and vote centers in Sacramento in the March 2020 election await processing after Election Day. 

California also provides several protections to keep our voters from being disenfranchised through the vote-by-mail balloting process. Ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted as long as they are received within seven days of Election Day and counties are required to contact voters with missing or challenged envelope signatures to provide an opportunity to submit a valid signature and have their ballot counted. These protections mean counties are accepting and counting some ballots after Election Day. 

Additionally, California is the most populous state in the nation, so it is not surprising that it takes longer to count the millions of ballots cast, each one containing dozens of contests. 

All these factors result in longer vote counts becoming the norm in California. We not only moved from "Election Day" to "Election Month", but we have also moved from "Election Night" to "Ballot Counting Month". 

Achieving Statewide Drop Box Access

The California Voter Foundation promotes and supports every California’s full and equal access to opportunities to participate in the voting process. 

Access to ballot drop boxes is one important means to ensure equal access. To track progress towards this goal, CVF conducted a statewide analysis of ballot drop box access in each county this election using information from county election office websites, the California Secretary of State’s Early Voting and Vote-by-Mail Ballot Drop-Off Locations web page, and by making calls to some county election offices.

In 2021, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 37 into law, which requires all counties to mail every registered voter a ballot and, additionally, with a few exceptions, to provide voters with access to at least one external drop box available for at least 12 hours a day. 

Key findings from CVF's research are below:

  • All 58 California counties offer drop boxes.
  • 99.54% of California's registered voters have access to a drop box open 24 hours a day/seven days a week
  • There are 1,746 drop boxes across California this election. 
  • All counties, but one, are compliant with AB 37; all counties, but three, have at least one drop box accessible 24 hours; and all counties, but two, have at least one drop box available outside.

About the California Voter Foundation

The California Voter Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working through research, oversight, outreach and demonstration projects to improve the election process so that it better serves the needs and interests of voters. CVF-News is a free, electronic newsletter featuring news and updates about the California Voter Foundation's projects and activities.

Support CVF's work with a tax-deductible contribution!