Nearly half of all vote-by-mail ballots cast are returned prior to Election Day. These ballots are processed, prepared, and tabulated the week prior to Election Day. At the close of polls on election night, they are counted and are the first election results posted shortly after 8pm. (Ballots and memory cards from polling places are still making their way back to our office at this time.)
The remaining vote-by-mail ballots are received on Election Day through the mail or returned at polling places and drop-off locations. Ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 17 days of the election are also counted (Election Code §3020.1(d)). These ballots are processed and added to the vote total on the Friday after the election.
Roughly 5% of all ballots cast are provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are examined after all vote-by-mail and polling place voters have been given credit for voting. If a voter who cast a provisional ballot is determined to be an eligible voter, and if they have not voted elsewhere, then their ballot is counted. The process of determining eligibility and tabulating provisional ballots takes roughly two weeks, but ensures that every valid vote is counted. These results are added to the vote total three weeks after Election Day.
One Percent Manual Tally
After each election a sample of the ballots cast are selected at random and counted by hand to verify that the scanners correctly recorded votes throughout the course of the election. The manual hand count is compared to the count produced by the scanners to verify that votes were tabulated correctly. The process of retrieval, manual counting, and verification takes roughly one week and is completed at the end of the canvassing period, four weeks after Election Day.
Reconciliation of Ballots and Signatures
Whether the ballot is cast provisionally, by mail, or at the polls on Election Day, each voter signs an envelope or roster as a record of voting. Our office compares the number of signatures from the polling place rosters to the number of ballots cast at that polling place to explain and/or correct any discrepancies. Reasons for discrepancies might include a voter signing on the wrong line or if a voter casting a ballot provisionally signed both the roster and their provisional envelope.
Our office must also handle any ballots that are damaged or unable to be read by the machine. Usually a ballot cannot be read if its damage (generally ripped or torn) or has coffee/food stains. Roughly two percent of all ballots returned cannot be read by our scanners. Our staff remake unreadable ballots, which are then processed like all other ballots. In 2016 that was over 40,000 ballot cards.