Why Bay Area counties still have so many votes to count

By Annie Sciacca,
Bay Area News Group,
November 7, 2018


Almost a full day after polls closed, counties across the Bay Area still had hundreds of thousands of ballots to count — almost half of the number cast in a couple of cases.

And that’s to be expected as more and more California voters turn to mail-in ballots, which take longer to count, elections staff and experts say.

“This is the new normal,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “We vote for a month and count ballots for a month in California.”

What’s also lengthened the tallying time is a state law that went into effect in 2015, which allows vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later to be counted. Such ballots previously had to be received by Election Day.

As a result, many of the ballots sent close to Election Day don’t get into the hands of counters until later.

Alameda County had counted roughly 255,000 ballots Wednesday morning and still had some 250,000 more to count, said Tim Dupuis, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.


Elections offices have 30 days to certify results. Dupuis said Alameda County is aiming to have that done before Thanksgiving.

In Contra Costa County, elections staff estimated Wednesday afternoon that 177,000 ballots still needed to be counted. Of those, about 151,000 are vote-by-mail ballots, 25,000 are provisional ballots and about 1,000 are conditional voter ballots.

Provisional ballots are cast by people who believe they are registered to vote even though their names are not on the official voter registration list or by people expected to vote by mail who instead show up at their polling place without a ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Voters also are allowed to vote conditionally if they did not register to vote by the Oct. 22 deadline. These votes have to be verified by elections officials.

In Santa Clara County, more than 75 percent of voters use mail-in ballots. As of Wednesday afternoon, about 304,000 ballots were counted and staff estimated roughly 270,000 still needed to be.

While voting by mail makes for a slow counting process because signatures have to be checked, envelopes opened and ballots flattened, it makes things easier for voters, said Shannon Bushey, Registrar of Voters for Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County implemented a 24-hour vote-by-mail processing system to help speed things up, she added.

In San Mateo County, as well as Madera, Napa, Sacramento and Nevada counties, the election offices participate in a new system made possible by the Voter’s Choice Act of 2016, which allows the counties to mail out ballots to every registered voter. There, people can vote at designated centers or simply drop off their ballots.

That left some of those counties with surges in mail-in ballots that needed to be counted, Alexander said.

But Alexander agreed with local elections officials that overall, the expansion of vote-by-mail ballots, conditional voter registration and some of the things that make ballot counting slower in recent elections is actually a good sign.

“I know people are impatient,” she said, “But we take our time, we count ballots, we make sure people aren’t disenfranchised. We also verify the vote and other states don’t do that. I’m grateful for that. I want us to get it right.” (full story