In an era when there’s almost nothing that can’t be found out quickly, the long wait for final results from an election in California feels interminable. And yet, there’s a pretty simple reason why it takes so long to count all the votes. California is not just home to more voters than any other state in the U.S. But it also has more election laws designed to maximize a voter’s chances of casting a ballot. “We don’t put up any of the barriers that you see in other states,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. Lawmakers through the years have taken a decidedly pro-voter approach when enacting new election laws, none more consequential than the expanded use of absentee voting. In some states, you still need a good reason to not show up in person on election day.
Permanent absentee voting, which became open to everyone in 2002, is now used by more than 52% of all California voters.
Absentee ballots, though, aren’t always cast early. Some voters deliver them to polling places on election night, and others put them in the mail at the last minute. But that’s OK under a new state law allowing ballots postmarked by election day to be counted if they arrive no more than three days late.
In California’s most proactive counties, election officials reach out to voters who forget to sign the absentee ballot envelope. If the voter can be contacted in time, the ballot is counted.