Answering Questions About Vote-By-Mail in California Amid COVID-19

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

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California and many other states are getting ready for a surge of absentee voting amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all counties to send mail-in ballots to all active registered voters in the state. 

Voting by mail isn’t new in California. It’s been allowed for anyone who’s registered, and for any reason, since 1979, according to the California Voter FoundationLearn more/register to vote by mail for the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election.

Election experts answered some pressing questions about voting by mail: 

Does Vote-By-Mail Really Lead To ‘Massive Fraud?’ 

The answer is no, it hasn't. Several studies have examined the practice and found an extremely low rate of fraud, including a 5-year investigation by the George W. Bush administration that turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections. 

“Election fraud of all sorts is rare. There is a slightly less rare instance of voter fraud by absentee balloting,” said Charles Stewart, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, which analyzes election systems. “There are greater temptations and opportunities. Nonetheless, they are rare.” 

More recently, Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angelesexamined U.S. elections from 2000 to 2014. He found just 31 credible incidents of voter fraud of any kind over that period, during which more than a billion votes were cast.

What Safeguards Are In Place For Vote-By-Mail Ballots? 

The biggest protection in California is the signature matching requirement. A voter must sign the outside of their ballot’s envelope. That signature is then matched with the voter’s signature on file from when they registered to vote.  

Each vote-by-mail ballot also comes with “an identification envelope that is unique to that voter,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which advocates for voters and improving the election process. 

“It has a barcode on it for that voter. It has the voter’s address and information on it,” said Alexander, explaining that voters must use that envelope to return their ballot. “That’s how the county is going to do two things: Number one, make sure you only vote one time. Number two, make sure they can verify the validity of your ballot without opening it because you have the right to cast a secret ballot.”

Can I track the status of my vote-by-mail ballot? 

Yes, voters in many parts of the state can. The Secretary of State’s Office offers the ‘Where’s My Ballot?’ tracking service. Voters can track and receive notifications on each step of the process from when the ballot has been delivered to you to when the completed ballot has been received by your county. 

The following counties participate: Amador, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sutter, Tehama, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, Yuba. 

To sign up, visit: 

How do I request a vote-by-mail ballot? 

You can fill out this California Vote By Mail Application on the Secretary of State’s Office website. Printed applications are also included in county voter information guides. Another option is to contact your county elections office to see if it allows you to apply by phone. All applications must be returned to your county elections office. 

In three of California’s sparsely-populated counties, Plumas, Sierra and Alpine, voters automatically receive vote-by-mail ballots. They have no polling places or vote centers. Counties with fewer than 250 voters per precinct can choose this model.

Fifteen others send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters under a new model established by the Voter’s Choice Act, which was signed into law in 2016. It allows counties to opt-in to the new system which eliminates many local polling places and replaces them with larger, more centralized vote centers where people can cast a ballot in-person on election day or several days before.

Five counties — Sacramento, Madera, Napa, Nevada, San Mateo — piloted the new system in the 2018 midterm election. Ten more chose to make the switch for the first time this year: Butte, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Fresno, Santa Clara, Orange, Los Angeles. 

Do mail-in ballots include ‘I Voted’ stickers?

In some counties, vote-by-mail packets do include the popular ‘I Voted’ stickers handed out at polling places and worn by many as a symbol of pride. SacramentoSan Francisco and Los Angeles counties, among others, include them. 

What happens if my vote-by-mail ballot is lost or stolen? 

You can request a second vote-by-mail ballot if your original is lost, stolen, or destroyed. Contact your county elections office to be sent another ballot. Counties are able to “cancel out” lost or stolen ballots using a statewide voter registration database called VoteCal, according to Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. 

Does vote-by mail favor republicans or democrats? 

A Stanford University report published in May found mail-in voting has “no impact” on partisan turnout or vote share. It examined data from 1996 to 2018 from Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and California, states with either universal or widespread mail-in voting. The authors wrote "our paper has a clear takeaway: claims that vote-by-mail fundamentally advantages one party over the other appear overblown."

“Vote by mail favors neither party inherently,” added Stewart, the MIT professor. "These days, if you look nationwide there is nary a difference between the usage rate of Democrats and Republicans on average nationwide.”

What really matters, Stewart said, is how political campaigns use vote-by-mail. In recent years, “Democratic campaigns have leaned more heavily on early voting and absentee voting than Republicans have. And I think that’s what’s led to this myth that mail voting helps Democrats.”

Does vote-by-mail boost voter turnout? 

Last month, PolitiFact California took a close look at whether vote-by-mail boosts turnout after California Secretary of State Alex Padilla claimed it “helped increase voter turnout rates and not just in blue states like California, but in red states and purple states across the country.” Several studies concluded that states with vote-by-mail saw a modest increase in voter turnout. However, the studies do not conclusively prove that introducing vote by mail alone is responsible for boosting turnout.

How common is vote-by-mail in California and nationally?

It’s very common and getting more so. The majority of ballots cast in each of the past four general elections and eight primaries in California were by mail, according to the Secretary of State’s Office website

The practice hasn’t always been so popular. In the 1962 general election, the first for which the Secretary of State lists absentee voting statistics, less than 3% of ballots were sent in via mail. That grew to 6.5% in 1982; 27% by 2002; and 51% by the 2012 general election, the first where a majority of California voters cast mail-in ballots. 

Just five states regularly conduct universal vote-by-mail elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington. In those states, ballots are automatically sent to all registered voters, who then fill them out and mail them back. 

Twelve states allow counties to opt-in to mail-voting or allow it for certain elections, but not others. Voters in another 29 states have the option to vote-by-mail in federal elections, but must request such a ballot.

Source: CapRadio

Category: Government Affairs