Election Wrap-up: A look back, a look ahead

By Kim Alexander,
December 18, 2020

Hi Folks,

The 2020 election wrapped up with an astounding 80.7 percent turnout of California's registered voters!

Last Friday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla certified the results: nearly 17.8 million Californians cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential Election, representing 71 percent of the state's eligible voters. As noted in John Myers' LA Times story, this was the highest turnout California has seen since 1952. 

The Times also reported a record high vote-by-mail ballot acceptance rate, at nearly 99.5%. CVF's rejected ballots study found that the lowest rate of rejected ballots over the past ten years was in the November 2016 Presidential Election, when 0.7% of the state's mail ballots were rejected (the ten-year average rate is 1.7%).

Not only did California log an all-time high number of voters casting ballots; an analysis by Calmatters found poor and diverse voters fueled the record turnout, a sign California's electorate is finally growing in a way that more accurately reflects the state's population. 

While the turnout was remarkable, there were some problems that deserve attention and correction. In Alameda County, one voting site sent as many as 160 voters home with their voted ballots because pollworkers mistakenly believed the ballot marking device-issued ballots were receipts and not the actual ballots to be cast.

In Butte County, 529 ballots were discovered in a drop box on the Chico State campus weeks after Election Day, potentially altering the outcome of one local measure once the new results are re-certified.

In Los Angeles County, an official ballot drop box was set ablaze; in Contra Costa County, election staff did not receive several dozen ballots that had been deposited into a drop box at Richmond City Hall.

Unauthorized drop boxes were placed in various locations by the California Republican Party, resulting in weeks of legal wrangling between the party and Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra (whose lawsuit was quietly dropped in late November). In Orange County, authorities investigated an unauthorized vote center.

Fortunately, many of these problems occurred well before Election Day, providing election officials the opportunity to contact voters and correct problems where possible.

BallotTrax, the new statewide ballot tracking tool, helped voters and officials alike determine when ballots that had been returned did not reach election offices. While it was a beneficial service, BallotTrax also created unrealistic voter expectations about how quickly their ballots would be processed and generated some confusion.

Though the election wasn't perfect, it was extraordinary. Thousands of people went to great lengths and took enormous personal risks to their own health and safety to ensure nearly 18 million Californians could safely and securely vote. Many local election officials expressed their support for the changes made this year to enable safe voting. Voters did their part by voting early by the millions, taking pressure off Election Day challenges. 

It is incredibly satisfying to see what a significant difference paper ballots made nationwide, with 95 percent of ballots now cast on paper (a reform CVF helped advance) providing an historically high level of verifiability, transparency and security. This achievement is being undermined by the continuing drumbeat of false claims about election fraud being made by the current administration and echoed by elected leaders across the country, undermining public confidence in the results and threatening the personal safety of election officials and their staff.

We in the elections community have our work cut out for us trying to repair this damage. Meanwhile, legislative leaders have signaled their desire to continue sending all active, registered voters ballots through the mail in future elections with the introduction of Assembly Bill 37.

But mailing everyone a ballot is not the end of the story. We also need to continue giving voters the option to vote in person and vote early. Access to early voting and secure, official drop boxes must be provided to all voters across the state. Continuing and expanding these voting options and maintaining high voter turnout requires resources. Local election offices must have the kind of financial support they received this year from the federal and state governments in future years, not just during a pandemic.

And speaking of resources....there is still time to make your year-end donation to CVF! If you've read this far it is because you care about elections and voters. Please donate and show your support for the work ahead.

Wishing you a healthy and restful holiday season,

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder

California Voter Foundation

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season of giving



About the California Voter Foundation

The California Voter Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working through research, oversight, outreach and demonstration projects to improve the election process so that it better serves the needs and interests of voters. CVF-News is a free, electronic newsletter featuring news and updates about the California Voter Foundation's projects and activities.

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