New data obtained by a nonpartisan election watchdog group verify that “significant numbers” of vote-by-mail voters in California didn’t receive their ballots for the 2018 midterm elections, forcing them to vote at the polls.
Election Integrity Project California (EIPCa) analyzed data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in July, which found that provisional voting was largely driven by vote-by-mail voters who did not have a ballot to surrender to poll workers.
“In Los Angeles County alone, three times as many provisional ballots were cast in 2018 than in the 2014 midterm,” stated EIPCa in a release.
“According to the EAC, 282,240 Los Angeles County vote-by-mail voters that actually came to the polls had to vote provisionally in that election, accounting for two-thirds of all provisional ballots cast.”
EIPCa observers previously visited between 2 and 10 percent of polling places in eight counties, documenting more than 1,300 incidents of vote-by-mail voters being forced to go to the polls to vote provisionally. Many told the nonprofit group that they were worried their votes wouldn’t be counted.
“We found that we had a huge number of people saying that they were missing their vote-by-mail ballot. We estimated about tens of thousands missed [their ballots] in just the southern counties,” EIPCa President Linda Paine said.
“[From] the sampling that we got from our teams, the numbers were so large that we estimated that it may possibly be hundreds of thousands [statewide].”
Los Angeles County election officials also confirmed to LAist in November 2018 that “the highest volume of provisional ballots came from voters who arrived at polling places and were listed as vote-by-mail voters but didn’t have mail ballots with them to surrender.”
Paine said that every county surveyed admitted problems with the vote-by-mail process and also DMV registration.
“Every county in California that answered [our] questions indicated that there were serious problems with vote-by-mail ballots not getting to the intended recipient. The DMV was a big problem, and it appears in a couple of counties the vote-by-mail ballots weren’t even mailed,” she said.
“It would be one thing if the issue were in just L.A. County, but it wasn’t. It was in every county in which we had teams, and it was reflected in counties in which we didn’t have teams. There was not one single county that didn’t have the issue.”
Paine and the EIPCa have also recently opposed the 2016 Voter’s Choice Act, calling for its removal.
The act allows participating counties to replace traditional polling places with vote centers and ballot drop off locations, starting with the 2020 elections. Voters will also have a third option of vote-by-mail.
“The voter center model requires the county registrars to send a vote-by-mail ballot to every single person on their county distribution list. That means even people who are not registered to vote-by-mail will get a vote-by-mail ballot whether they want it or not,” said Paine.
Paine said this includes inactive voters, many of whom have yet to be removed from the voter rolls.
“If it’s going to a deceased person or person who’s moved, who’s going to be receiving that ballot?” she asked.
Earlier this year, EIPCa won a lawsuit against the state of California and Los Angeles County mandating that up to 1.5 million inactive voters be removed from the voter rolls. The voters would be removed if they didn’t vote in the last two general federal elections and if they don’t return a postcard sent to them asking if they are still planning on voting.
Paine says that while this is a victory, it still falls short, as it allows an opportunity for unscrupulous people to vote in someone’s name for two consecutive election cycles.
In the 2020 elections, 15 counties, including Amador, Calaveras, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Tuolumne, will be participating in the program. Five of them, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento, and San Mateo counties, implemented these policies in 2018.
California Model Spreading to Other States
Paine noted that other states are beginning to adopt what she calls the “California model” of voting, and that the voting integrity issues that the state is experiencing will be adopted in other states as well.
“Back in 2012, we definitely were the only ones with the kinds of issues we were identifying and the way we were identifying them. By 2016, we started hearing from other states that they were starting to see the same things we had been cautioning them about in 2012. Now after 2018, the issue of ballot harvesting, vote-by-mail and a lot of issues we’ve been identifying here seem to be spreading,” she said.
Facing the large changes in the state’s electoral process for 2020, Paine has stated that the EIPCa will continue to investigate to ensure that California’s voting process is within the realm of legality.