California primary’s lesson for pundits: Don’t speak too soon in the age of mail-in voting

By Jasper Goodman,
Los Angeles Times,
June 22, 2022


In the hours after polls closed in the closely watched California primary on June 7, reviews from pundits were quick to come in.

Turnout: abysmal. Progressive reforms: rejected. Ex-RepublicanRick Caruso: the surprise star of the night in liberal Los Angeles.

But with the proliferation of mail-in voting, messages from California voters now arrive with a lag — one that hasn’t proven friendly to the quick takes of social media and cable news.

“We used to have a single election day, and often have decisive results for most contests on election night,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “Now, we have election month, and a month of vote counting.”

Reforms making it easier to vote by mail in California have severed the state’s electorate into three distinct tranches: early voters, in-person election day voters, and those who mailed or handed in their ballots on or just before that day, the deadline for postmarks. Ballots from the latter group are often tabulated after election day and new state regulations allow them to arrive up to a week after and still be counted, extending wait times for definitive.

With a pandemic-induced acceleration in mail-in voting, election day results mean less than ever, representing an increasingly small part of the picture.

“It’s been a growing challenge to get the word out before election day to the general public and news media alike to not expect to have definitive results on election night,” Alexander said. “This new ballot flow frustrates the longstanding conventions of how we think about election day and election night.”

Perhaps the most dominant narrative in the media coverage and commentary coming out of election night was that California voters were sending a clear message on public safety and progressive criminal justice reform efforts that could have national reverberations. But in the two weeks since California’s primary, some key races across the state have reshuffled or tightened — turning upside-down some of the early punditry about the message Golden State voters are sending this cycle.

“Anybody paying attention to California politics should know that election night results have no bearing on what the final outcome will be because we allow every registered voter to be able to vote, and then we do our best to count every valid ballot cast,” said Ludovic Blain, executive director of the California Donor Table, a progressive fundraising group. “So, it’s really a rookie mistake for people to be doing hot takes the night of or the day after.” (Full Story)