By Rita Li
An election integrity group said 10.9 million out of a total 22.1 million ballots that had been mailed out to registered voters during the 2022 midterm elections went “unaccounted for,” according to a Jan. 18 report.
“Mail voting practices have an insurmountable information gap,” the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) said on Monday. “The public cannot know how many ballots were disregarded, delivered to wrong mailboxes, or even withheld from the proper recipient by someone at the same address.”
The watchdog released the two-page report (pdf) detailing what it called “the failures” of California’s first mass-mail balloting election following the passage of Assembly Bill 37 (AB 37), which requires that ballots automatically be mailed to all active registered voters statewide. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2021, makes vote-by-mail ballots, a practice implemented in the 2020 general election in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent for all elections.
California has more registered voters than any other state. Yet its vote-by-mail policies—among the nation’s most expansive—have resulted in large numbers of ballots “disappearing at poll closing time,” PILF’s data show.
“After accounting for polling place votes and rejected ballots in November 2022, there were more than 10 million ballots left outstanding, meaning election officials do not know what happened to them,” reads the Wednesday report.
“It is fair to assume that the bulk of these were ignored or ultimately thrown out by the intended recipients. But, under mass-mail elections, we can only assume what happened,” it continued.
Besides the almost half unaccounted-for mail ballots, data show that 9.8 million were accepted, over 120,000 were rejected, and 1.4 million were counted from in-person voting centers.
The Golden State, which has been a Democratic stronghold for over two decades, mailed out more than 22.1 million ballots to its registered voters—nearly 47 percent Democrats and 24 percent Republicans—during the 2022 elections. A GOP victory in California on Nov. 16 granted the party slim control of the U.S. House.
Mail-In Ballot Rejects
PILF, after finding that election officials in California had rejected 226,250 mail-in ballots during the 2022 primary and general elections, argued that the switch to mail balloting has taken away voters’ rights.
According to the report, the state would reject mail ballots primarily for nine reasons, including mismatched or missing signatures, and double voting when a registrant casts a vote both in-person and by-mail, which took place 813 times in the past midterms.
The most common reason, which researchers said is “endemic to mail voting,” turned out to be late-arriving ballots—taking up 48 percent of all rejects during the 2022 elections, finding show.
Every registered voter in California should receive a ballot in the mail a month prior to Election Day. All ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Nov. 8 to be counted, and received within seven days by county election officials, who would then verify the signatures on the return envelopes and process ballots through their vote tallying system.
“In the November contests, more than 57,000 ballots arrived after November 15, setting them up for rejection,” PILF stated.
“The official datasets do not differentiate between ballots postmarked too late or delivered too late. The U.S. Postal Service also touts its 2022 performance by claiming that 99 percent of mail ballots were delivered nationally within 3 days to officials for counting once in their custody,” the repost reads, noting that the Post Office sets the success rate at 94 percent for timely delivery of political mail.
“So the failure to deliver ballots on time is not surprising.”
PILF President J. Christian Adams agrees that mail-in ballots can “disenfranchise” voters.
“There are many reasons mail ballots fail ultimately to count. No one casting a ballot at home can correct an error before it’s too late,” the chairman said. “California’s vote-by-mail demonstration should serve as a warning to state legislators elsewhere.”
Mail-in ballots may still be counted when a postmark is missing or illegible, but it depends on the circumstances. Under the new legislation, Californians can also bring ballots to a polling place in person or drop them in an official ballot box, if they wish.