The deadline to return California ballots is Nov. 3. But waiting until then is risky

By Lara Korte,
The Sacramento Bee,
October 23, 2020


Californians have until Nov. 3 to return their mail ballots, but elections officials and experts are encouraging voters to do it sooner rather than later. 

Waiting risks mishaps that could lead to a ballot not being counted.

During the March primaries, California counties were unable to count 100,000 mail ballots, and many were rejected because they did not arrive at elections offices on time, according to county data compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office. Legislators hoping to ameliorate the problem extended the deadline for receiving ballots from three days after the election to 17 days.

But Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, says such a measure won’t be a complete safeguard against voters mailing ballots at the last minute. Although ballots have an additional 17 days to arrive at elections offices, they must be postmarked by Nov. 3. 

“In Sacramento County, in the last three elections, most of the ballots that were rejected for lateness were rejected not because they arrive too late to count, but because they were postmarked too late to count,” Alexander said. “And the most common ‘too late date’ we saw on envelopes in our study was the day immediately after Election Day.”

Even if a voter drops a ballot in the mailbox on Election Day, it may not be picked up by a carrier and postmarked until the next day, depending on pickup times. If voters are worried about their mail ballots getting mailed on time, they should return the ballot to an official drop box, their local elections office, or a polling location, which will be open until 8 p.m. on election day.

“You don’t want to dawdle on this. You want to get your ballot in earlier rather than late,” Alexander said. “You don’t want to cut it close. Not this year.”

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Alexander said young people especially are encouraged to return their ballots in a timely manner. A study from the California Voter Foundation on rejected ballots in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Sacramento Counties in the 2018 midterms found that, while young voters were the smallest age group of vote-by-mail voters, they represented the largest group of rejected vote-by-mail ballots.

In all three counties, the ballot rejection rate for voters age 18 to 24 was three times the counties’ overall rejection rates, the study found. 

“Young people just don’t have a lot of experience with the Postal Service,” Alexander said. “And they may not be aware of the need to look at the fine print inside the mailbox.”

As a general guideline, the United States Postal Service recommends mailing ballots back at least one week before state deadlines. In California’s case, that would be Oct. 27. Every registered California voter is automatically receiving a mail ballot this year, and they can immediately fill it out, sign it, and return it through the Postal Service without having to pay for a stamp. (Full Story)