Why California Primary Vote Count Isn’t Done

Connor Forbes
Connor Forbes
4 Min Read

Primary Vote Count

BY LYNN LA, CalMatters

Two weeks after voting ended in California’s primary, there are 166,000 ballots left to be counted, and a dozen congressional and legislative races remain too close to call, along with Proposition 1

While the uncounted ballots are only about 2% of the 7.7 million cast, readers have again asked why it takes so long for California to finish counting votes.

California started mailing ballots to all registered voters for the November 2020 election. This year, about 50% of ballots cast were counted on primary night March 5, compared to 41% in June 2022, according to data from the California Voter Foundation. 

But processing mail-in ballots can take time. Any ballots postmarked by March 5 and received by March 12 still get counted. Also, there are a number of steps county elections offices take to ensure the integrity of each voter’s ballot, some of which can’t start until after election day. And counties have varying levels of staffing or resources that can impact how quickly the work is done. As of Tuesday night, 12 of 58 counties reported completing their tallies. 

  • Ryan Ronco, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and registrar of voters for Placer County: “It’s not just about counting ballots, although that is critically important. It’s also about counting ballots accurately with staff that you have that can commit to that project — knowing that there are also other legally required projects that we need to complete during this period.”

While part of the delay is due to ensuring accuracy, lengthy vote counts can create distrust among some voters.

The state passed some laws to try and speed up the process. One new law allows counties to immediately scan vote-by-mail ballots from people who bring them in person. Placer County did so this primary: About 8,000 people used the system of the nearly 15,000 who came to vote centers. 

Another new law allows counties to contact voters via email or text for signature verification. But both laws just went into effect on Jan. 1, and not all counties have had the time or resources to opt in yet. 

In Orange County, the last batch of notification letters were sent out March 13, according to Bob Page, the county’s registrar of voters. Voters have until two days prior to certification of the election to respond. 

Counties have until April 2 to report the final results of the presidential primaries to the Secretary of State’s office, and until April 5 for other state races. The Secretary of State will certify the final primary results by April 12. 

Special congressional election: The vote count has gone on so long there’s already another election: The special to fill the remainder of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s term in the Republican-friendly 20th Congressional District

In returns as of early Wednesday, Assemblymember Vince Fong had 41% of the vote, fellow Republican and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux had 26% and Democratic teacher Marisa Wood had 23%. If no wins 50% plus one, there will be a runoff between the top two on May 21. The AP declared that Fong has advanced. At stake is a head start on seniority in the U.S. House, plus a likely expansion of the slim GOP majority.

Most of the nine candidates on the special election ballot are the same as the 11 who ran in the March 5 primary. In that top-two race, Fong, with 42% of the vote, and Boudreaux, with 24%, advanced to November for the full two-year term that starts in January.

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Primary Vote Count
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