Late-Arriving Mail Ballots Rekindle California Calls for “Postmark Rule”

too late.jpg

[Image courtesy of patentpracticeliability]

[NOTE: This post has been changed to correct the bill number establishing a postmark rule.]

It’s too late baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
– Carole King

Tuesday’s statewide primary in California continued the state’s growing commitment to vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots with about half of votes cast coming in via VBM.

But for some VBM voters, filling out and returning their ballots wasn’t enough to get them counted. KCRA in Sacramento has more:

About 1,200 Sacramento County vote-by-mail ballots arrived too late to be counted in this week’s primary election, according to elections officials.

Jill LaVine, the county’s registrar of voters, shook her head as she leafed through five trays of pink envelopes and examined the postmarks.

“Once again, I see June 3 on these, so they were postmarked June 3,” said LaVine.

Even though many of the ballots were mailed before the polls closed Tuesday, they were not received at the registrar’s office until afterwards.

Under California law, that means the ballots will never be opened, counted and included in the official results.

“So much work went into this and we can’t count them. So it’s sad. It’s really sad,” said LaVine.

This isn’t a new issue; as the article notes, a recent analysis found that 20,000 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the last statewide election. That’s rekindled interest in following the lead of several other states that allow VBM ballots to count if they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive within a certain number of days afterwards.

“The only thing worse than people not voting is people who try to vote and then aren’t able to,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

Alexander said California should do as 11 other states and the District of Columbia have done, which is count ballots postmarked by election day, even if they are received a few days late.

“That would literally increase voter turn-out in California significantly,” Alexander said.

A bill before the Legislature would require county elections officials to count ballots if postmarked by the date of the election and received within three days.

Such bills are intended both to give voters more time as well as to account for delivery delays at the Postal Service:

SB 29 would also allow ballots without postmarks that are signed and dated by the election.

Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said he wrote SB 29 because of the threat of budget cuts at the U.S. Postal Service.

“The problem is, as budgets continue to effect the operations of fine agencies like the post office, the timing of that mailing becomes unpredictable,” said Correa in a phone interview with KCRA 3.

Not everyone is on board, however:

Mike Gatto, the Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the committee, has expressed concerns about the part of the bill that requires a ballot to be counted even without a postmark, according to his office.

Lee Lundrigan, the Stanislaus County registrar of voters, said she opposes SB 29 because it would encourage more voters to wait until the election day to mail their ballot.

Lundrigan said her staff members would have to examine thousands of sometimes hard to decipher postmarks on late ballots.

“You would see a bunch of people sitting around looking like they did at chads in Florida,” Lundrigan told KCRA 3.

Election officials are also seeking to ensure that a postmark rule, if enacted, wouldn’t cut into the time they have to certify the results and are asking the state to extend the certification deadline accordingly.

Whether or not the bill is enacted, groups like the California Voter Foundation are planning to step up their efforts to alert voters of the potential for late-arriving VBM ballots, encouraging them to mail such ballots with enough time to arrive or drop them off at a polling place in their jurisdiction on Election Day as permitted under current law.

Either way, California’s experience is one which other states looking to expand VBM should consider – because giving voters the opportunity to mail in ballots is compromised if otherwise valid ballots can’t count because of delivery delays.

Sacramento’s LaVine is right; rejecting such ballots is just “sad” – here’s hoping that California can find a way (legislatively or otherwise) to make sure those ballots are included in the final tally.

Stay tuned …

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