Counting California's ballots; Check your ballot status online

November 15, 2018

Hi Folks,

While the election took place nine days ago, it is far from over. Millions of California ballots still remain to be counted. Voters and election officials alike are working to correct problems with vote-by-mail envelopes that are missing voters' signatures or the signatures are mismatched. Several California contests are still too close to call. Read below for more details on the status of the vote count and what Californians can and should be doing right now to ensure their vote-by-mail ballots get counted.

It's important to note that this work is going on at a time when firefighters are battling several major wildfires across the state that have upended many lives and created some of the worst air quality ever seen in the state. 

Wishing health and safety for all, 

- Kim Alexander, President & Founder, California Voter Foundation

Counting California's Ballots

The California Secretary of State's office is reporting semi-official election results online. The statewide results are updated frequently as is the County Reporting Status and the current results for Close Contests. The most recent update, provided at 10:44 am this morning shows 9,881,036 ballots counted so far. The Unprocessed Ballots Status report shows how many ballots remain to be counted in each county.

The latest update, posted at noon today, shows 2,761,743 ballots remaining to be counted statewide. It's important to note that while the overall statewide number was recently updated, many counties have not updated their own county's number and the date of each county's last update is also provided.

Because of this possible overlap, it's not possible to simply combine these numbers to determine the voter turnout number. But based on what's been reported so far the turnout was very strong in California and appears to be the highest in terms of total number of voters of any midterm election. Historical General Election turnout numbers from the Secretary of State are available here.

Most of the ballots remaining to be counted are vote-by-mail and provisional ballots. Several news organizations (including Politico, the Bay Area News Group and the San Francisco Chronicle) have recently published stories that explain why California's vote counting process takes more time than other states. Not only is California the most populous state in the nation, California also provides voters with many voting options and provisional voting as a failsafe to reduce voter disenfranchisement.

California also conducts post-election audits that must take place to verify the accuracy of software vote counts before the results are certified. And California has instituted a three-day grace period for late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots ensuring they will be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within three business days after the election.

Another factor that adds time to the vote-counting process is the outreach counties are now conducting to provide voters whose mail ballot envelope signatures were challenged due to a mismatch with the opportunity to provide a valid signature so their ballots can be counted instead of rejected (more on that below).

Counties have until December 6 to complete their vote counts and certify their election results.

Voters with challenged signatures can submit a new signature and get their ballots counted

For voters and election officials, the election is not over when the polls have closed. Voters who cast vote-by-mail ballots can and should go online to verify that their ballot was received and counted. Many counties are still processing mail and provisional ballots and will be doing so for the next several weeks.

Thanks to a new law that took effect this election, voters whose vote-by-mail envelope signatures are found to not sufficiently match their signatures on file can submit a new signature so their ballot can be counted instead of rejected. Counties are required to contact voters whose signatures do not match but voters also can contact their county if they check online and find their signature is challenged. For more about this important process, see this CalMatters story.

Voters can use CVF's Directory of Election Offices to access their county's vote-by-mail ballot lookup tool and find their county's contact information, or visit the Secretary of State's My Voter Status site.