What to Expect in California’s Vote-by-Mail November Election

Yesica Prado/San Francisco Public Press

An elections worker processes 2019 ballots at the San Francisco Department of Elections.

All registered California voters will have the option of voting by mail this year, with mail-in ballots expected to reach voters by Oct. 5. To accommodate the anticipated high volume of mail that will be handled by an already strained postal service, elections officials will be able to accept ballots up to 17 days after Election Day, so long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3. Voters still have options, however, if for some reason they are unable to or not interested in sending their ballot by mail, but individual counties will determine whether to offer as many polling places as last year. 

CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher, who covers elections and politics in California, said that in March, more than 70% of voters cast their ballots by mail. The popularity of absentee ballots, coupled with state policies like same-day voter registration that make it easy for voters to participate but more complicated to count votes, has meant past results have taken nearly a month to tally. The state has permitted elections workers to begin processing — but not counting — mailed ballots before Election Day, but has not extended the deadline by which results must be officiated.

“What I’ve heard from the secretary of state and a lot of elections officials and elections experts is that we should stop thinking about it in terms of Election Day. We should think that Election Day is the last day on which you can vote, but that’s not the day on which — we shouldn’t all stay up and watch the news and wait for the results to come in at 10 or 11 at night. We should just expect that’s when the last ballot goes in and then we should just expect the results in the weeks to come.”

— Ben Christopher

A segment from our radio show, “Civic.” Listen daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on 102.5 FM in San Francisco.