With roughly 39 million people calling it home, California is the most populous state in the union. It’s also home to the most eligible voters by a sizeable margin.
One of the challenges of having such a huge voting body is that it can take quite a while to collect and count each and every vote.
But California’s population isn’t the only reason that it takes so long for all votes to be tabulated after an election.
For one, there are multiple ways that Californians can legally vote; gone away are the days where every person looking to cast their ballot had to wait in a long line at their nearest polling station.
In 2022, the bulk of Californians will be voting by mail, often weeks in advance of Election Day.
Vote-by-mail was already growing steam prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but after two years in which people were told to mask up, avoid crowds and stay home when possible, casting your vote and dropping it in your mailbox or nearest drop-off location is very much en vogue.
That’s why Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation last year that made it mandatory for the state to mail a ballot to every single California resident who is registered to vote. Voting by mail is safer, more convenient and just as reliable as voting in person, Newsom argued.
But with the rise of mail-in ballots came a few challenges. Not all ballots are counted at once; ballots that are turned in before Election Day are typically counted first, according to California Secretary of State.
After that, officials wait for voting centers to close at 8 p.m. before the next batch of ballots are counted. Those are the in-person votes.
Throughout election night, you’ll see updated totals from those two collections — those are the percentages you see on your TV screen in the evening.
That’s where the bulk of ballots are counted and, by that time, election officials and news agencies have a decent idea of who’s in the lead, and some races might even be called by the Associated Press or local newspapers.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Remember all those millions of California voters? Not all of them are returning their ballots before Nov. 8. No, many of them might forget to send their ballots in ahead of time, or maybe they want extra time to think about their choices. Regardless, thousands of votes will still need to be counted long after Election Day has passed.
Election officials will first count mail-in ballots that were received on Election Day. Those are usually counted the following day.
Some ballots arrive even later but were in the mail before the polls closed. Any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day is eligible to be counted. If your mail-in ballot is collected by your letter carrier before the day ends and arrives within seven days, it will be counted.
Did we mention that poll workers have to verify the signatures on these mail-in ballots? They do, and that takes time as well and will sometimes require some extra investigating if things don’t match.
From there, provisional ballots are counted. That includes people who take advantage of California’s same-day registration, people who believe they are eligible to vote but aren’t found on the voter roll, or people who lost their mail-in ballots.
Then damaged or unreadable ballots are counted, followed by write-in votes.
And remember, that’s tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of votes that will need to be counted after Election Day.
You can expect to see estimated totals in the days following Nov. 8, but they won’t be officially official until the California Secretary of State certifies the result.
The state has a maximum of 38 days after election night to certify the results — that includes a hand recount audit of a random 1% sample of precincts.
So why does it take California so long to count all its ballots? In short, it’s a product of the state’s massive population and laws that make it easier and more convenient for every eligible voter to be heard.
Election Day is only weeks away — but you’ll have to sit tight and wait for the official results