The polls have closed in California, but that doesn’t mean full results are ready — or even close. It will take days and perhaps weeks to tabulate every vote.
Officials won’t even know how many ballots are left to process until Friday.
And that’s by design. California gives voters many options to cast their ballot, including by mail, drop-off, and in person. Voters can also register through election day, which requires casting a provisional ballot that is counted after it’s verified process.
Mail-in ballots, as long as they were postmarked by election day, can arrive three days after the election and still be counted.
As of Wednesday morning, counties had processed just over 5 million ballots.
“The amount of votes outstanding could be equal to the amount of votes that we have currently counted,” said Paul Mitchell, an elections expert and vice president of Political Data Inc., on CapRadio’s Insight with Beth Ruyak Wednesday morning.
For some perspective, California had more than 20.6 million registered voters as of late February. It’s not clear yet how many voted Tuesday.
The state’s 58 counties are responsible for counting votes and reporting results to the Secretary of State. California law gives counties up to 30 days to complete vote counting, auditing and certification.
“In the state with the largest electorate in the nation, the vote count does not end on Election Night — and that’s a good thing,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in an emailed statement. “In California, we work to ensure every ballot is counted properly and every ballot is accounted for.”
Padilla says he will certify election results on April 10.
Demographics Of California’s Early Vote
The first results typically come from Republican, older and fiscally-conservative Californians who turn in their vote-by-mail ballots early on, David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said on election night.
Later-arriving ballots, by contrast, often come from the state’s younger voters, many of whom are registered Democrats or favor Democrats, Wolfe said.
For the primary, he said, many Democrats likely held on to their ballots to decide which presidential candidate to pick. Republicans, on the other hand, had nothing to wait for as President Trump remained their overwhelming choice.
This all means that early results can change dramatically as more ballots are tallied, said Dan Newman, a Democratic political consultant.
“There are literally millions and millions of ballots that are left to be counted,” Newman said on Wednesday, adding that he believes half of all votes have yet to be tallied. “What we do know about those ballots that are still outstanding is they are overwhelmingly from Democratic voters.”
Results Expected To Tighten For Proposition 13
Those factors explain why both Wolfe and Newman expect results to tighten for Proposition 13, a $15 billion school construction bond that was losing by double digits on election night. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still behind 44 percent to 56 percent.
Wolfe, whose taxpayers group opposed the measure, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the results would hold. But he was somewhat surprised, he said, by how much it was trailing.
Newman, a spokesman for the Yes on 13 campaign, said the results could flip.
“We anticipate [votes in favor] will keep moving upwards but we likely won’t know whether or not it will get over 50 [percent] for days if not weeks,” Newman added. “We always knew we would be behind in the early returns.”
While more than 16 million Californians were issued a vote-by-mail ballot, only about a quarter had been returned before election day, according to Mitchell’s firm Political Data Inc.
When Can We Expect New Results?
The Secretary of State’s website will update with new election results as counties provide them, said spokesperson Sam Mahood.
“The update frequency is really up to the counties, since they are the ones counting ballots,” he said in an email.
The Secretary of State’s Office will issue an “unprocessed ballots” report by the close of business Thursday, he added. That will be a compilation of estimates from counties for how many ballots are left to tally.
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