Why Does It Take Weeks To Count Votes In LA?
With a number of close races in Los Angeles County yet to be called, all eyes are on the vote counting process underway in a plain-faced office building in Downey.
In a white-walled room resembling a computer lab, 20 large scanners whir loudly throughout the day as dozens of county staff and temp workers feed them ballots.
Scanned images pop up on a monitor, stored for tabulation later in the afternoon so the County Registrar-Recorder can release the latest vote results to the public.
The tallying is expected to continue into next week and the registrar’s office is giving itself until Dec. 5 to certify the election results. Why does the vote count take as long as it does? We got some answers from the county.
Didya know anyone can just show up and watch the massive vote count underway in LA County?— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) November 15, 2022
From the observation deck, I try to explain what’s going on with these 20 giant scanners.🔈 pic.twitter.com/0Ep778gIdd
LA County Is Big
Some 5.6 million people are registered to vote in L.A. County. Voter participation dips during midterm elections but there are still millions of ballots to be processed in the country’s largest county. If turnout matches the 57% recorded during the 2018 midterms, that’s more than 3 million ballots that will need to be counted.
Every election there are thousands of conditional votes cast by people the same day they register to vote — and those need extra time to be processed. But the main reason why the tally takes a while is....
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Most People Are Voting By Mail — Which Requires Extra Steps
Mail-in ballots are still coming in after Election Day. They have to first go to a county facility in City of Industry, where workers "extract" them from envelopes and make sure each voter’s signature matches the signature the county has on file.
Then the ballots are packaged — 1,000 to a box — and brought to be counted in the room in Downey, housed inside one of the county's regional offices. (Ballots cast at vote centers are brought directly here.)
That's where the story ends for most ballots, but the journey continues for those with irregularities.
Some Voter Signatures Don’t Match
Sometimes the voter signatures on ballots don’t match the signatures the county has on file — or they’re missing altogether. That’s what happened "in the range of about 10,000" ballots, according to Registrar Dean Logan.
“We’re required then to contact the voter,” Logan told KPCC’s AirTalk Monday. “[We] give the voter the opportunity to ‘cure’ or correct that issue."
On the notice sent by the county, the voter is asked to provide a signature and mail it back. The process can take weeks. If the voter doesn’t respond, their ballot doesn’t count.
Some Ballots Aren’t Properly Filled Out
The scanners in the giant room spit the ballots into one of two piles. Those that have been properly scanned go into “Processed.” The minority that are rejected by the scanner go into “Outstack.”
Those that land in the “Outstack” pile often end up there because the voter didn’t properly fill in a bubble. An “Outstack” ballot is sent through the scanner again. If it’s rejected a second time, it is sent back to City of Industry to be “remade.” That's when a county worker fills out a new ballot copying what the voter marked on the original. Those are filled out with green highlighter instead of the black or blue ink voters are required to use.
Then the ballot gets sent back to Downey to be scanned again —without any problems this time, it's hoped.
Observe The Count Yourself
The county is live-streaming vote count activities at its City of Industry site, where mail-in ballots land first.
The county is also letting the public view the tally operation in person at its offices in Downey.
To plan a visit, click here for more information.
Estimated time of the following releases is between 4- 5 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 22 | Fri, Nov. 25 | Tue, Nov. 29 |Fri, Dec. 2
And if needed, Monday, Dec. 5
Read more about turnout: What We Know So Far About SoCal Voter Turnout In The 2022 General Election
The vote count as of Nov. 18:
- 2,441,323 ballots have been processed and counted
- 80% of those were mail-in ballots
- 20% voted in person
Still to be counted:
- Vote by Mail ballots: 22,200
- Conditional Voter Registration ballots: 3,000
- Provisional ballots: 50
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