As of this writing, it has been 10 days since the Nov. 8 General Election. And we still don’t know all of the results.
California isn’t the only place where this is an issue. But let’s just look at the situation here in Los Angeles County, in the elections we follow most closely in the Santa Clarita Valley.
As of Friday, the county has counted 2.3 million ballots, representing 40.63% of the county’s registered voters. Not exactly an overwhelming or unexpected turnout.
Yet, 10 days after the polls closed, the county still has about 175,000 ballots left to count. The number going into the latest update on Friday was 332,500 — meaning it will take a couple more updates, at minimum, to get the job done.
Of that number, how many ballots remain in an individual city, legislative district or school district? That level of detail is left in the realm of educated guessing.
Here in the SCV, it was a full week after the election before national media outlets were confident enough in the results to call the race in the 27th Congressional District, a pivotal contest on the national political scene. Rep. Mike Garcia became the 218th Republican to be elected to the House, finally ending the speculation about which party would hold the majority.
Locally, it took a week before we were confident enough in the results to project Marsha McLean will be successful in her City Council re-election bid. Several other local races remain in doubt, even as this is written, after Friday afternoon’s update. In one Newhall School District race, just 20 votes separate the candidates. Other local races too close to call included those for the 40th Assembly District and the SCV Water Agency, Division 3.
By law, the county has 30 days after the election to certify the results. We are confident that the county will get that done. So, the requirement will be met.
But is that good enough?
No, it’s not.
Here in the United States we have the world’s greatest technology. We can split the atom. We can develop a vaccine against a brand new virus in a matter of months. We can fly a rocket into space and land a robot on another planet to detect signs of life.
But getting the ballots counted in a timely manner — well, that’s beyond us.
Other Western nations manage to count their ballots more quickly than we do. Even some Third World nations do. The greatest democracy with the greatest technology in the history of the world ought to be able to conclude its election canvassing in a matter of hours, or at worst, days — not weeks. And in some places, they do: Heck, Florida managed to do it. If Florida can do it, why can’t we?
The problem has been exacerbated in recent elections by the expansion of the voting window — 29 days? Really? — and the universal mailing of ballots to all voters, not just those who requested them. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that, and consider going back to the pre-pandemic system in which “absentee” ballots had to be requested. Further, perhaps the deadline for submission of mail-in ballots should be revised so they have to be received, not just postmarked, by the time the polls close. When the polls close, all of the ballots should be in the hands of those responsible for counting them.
And, perhaps, it’s time to revisit the way technology is applied to our elections and seek greater efficiency through tech.
Further, part of the problem may be a simple lack of determination to get it done, and get it done now. As the polls closed, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s office released its canvass schedule, saying ballots would be counted during certain hours and updates were generally scheduled to be released to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Wait. What? You’re not keeping the counting operation going 24/7 until it’s done?
To its credit — somewhat — the county has added more frequent updates to that schedule since it was originally posted. Yet the results still have come in dribs and drabs.
Sure. The county registrar has other fish to fry. There are normal, daily job functions the office needs to perform other than counting ballots. But when we have an election, counting those ballots is Job No. 1.
They shouldn’t rest until it’s done. It’s the highest-profile function of the registrar-recorder’s office. This is their Super Bowl.
Or, at least it should be. Need more people and machines to get it done faster? Fine. Hire more people. Buy more machines. Our tax dollars have been wasted on much worse things.
These kinds of delays are the sort of thing that create doubt in voters’ minds about the veracity of our election results, especially in a county that has come under fire — and is even facing litigation — for its failure to maintain clean and current voter rolls.
For example, the committee seeking to recall District Attorney George Gascón contends the failure of its petition drive was due in part to the fact that the county has failed to remove as many as a half-million inactive voters from its rolls, including many who are deceased and many others who have moved away.
One can’t help but wonder how many of those mystery ballots found their way into this election.
Does any of this mean there is election “fraud” happening in Los Angeles County?
Honestly, we don’t think so. There haven’t been any indicators that we are getting anything but an honest count. But the interminable delays contribute to a general sense that all is not as it should be with the management of our elections.
It shouldn’t take weeks to find out who will represent us in Congress, or on a city council, school board or water board. Those who manage elections in various states and counties across the country need to do better, and that includes Los Angeles County.
Because just meeting the statutory 30-day requirement is the bare minimum.
It’s not good enough.