Tag Archives: Vote by Mail

The Road to November 3rd

Is California ready for Election2020? 

The spread of Covid 19 changed the rules for Californians heading to the polls in November. Vote by mail, historically a common practice for registered voters in California, has steadily grown in popularity, but the pandemic is forcing a dramatic surge in absentee voting. In the March primaries, almost 72% of ballots  were cast by mail even before the full impact of the Covid pandemic hit the state.

After pledging to switch to all-mail elections to protect Californians from coronavirus health risks with in-person voting, Gov. Gavin Newsom is readying the Golden State for an influx of mail-in voting.

In early May he ordered all counties to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter for the November election, noting that “No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote.”

The directive was immediately challenged by in court by conservative groups who argued this was “an unlawful attempt to supersede and replace California election law.” Newsom cleared that hurdle in June when he signed Assembly Bill 860  into law with bipartisan support from the State Assembly, effectively giving every Californian voter the option to vote safely from their home.

Yet, even as California moves ahead with its mail-out ballot plans, the process is under scrutiny from constituents concerned about voting safeguards, and under attack from President Trump who has claimed that mail-in voting “will lead to massive fraud and abuse.”

Alex Padilla, CA Secretary of State

However, voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the country, countered Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer, cautioning people from voting twice because “ its breaking state and federal law.”

At a national briefing on September 9 hosted by Ethnic Media Services, he explained how California was getting ready for Election Day.

“We want to make sure that elections are both accessible and secure. But given the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to make sure that the voting experience is one that is safe, and protects the health of both voters and election workers.”

California has countered misinformation and disinformation over the last four years to secure its voting infrastructure, voter databases, balloting systems, and to protect against cyber threats. “California leads the nation when it comes to security,” said Padilla.

The goal this election year is to ensure transparency and accountability in the electoral process and grow confidence in vote by mail, said Padilla, who has worked with state election officials in all 58 counties, voting rights advocates, and other stakeholders, to make sure the electoral process rolls out smoothly.

California has over 21 thousand registered voters and the largest and most diverse electorate, with voters from all “types and backgrounds, language preferences, and cultural experiences… so it’s our job to make sure that we’re communicating in the many formats, in the many ways that are respectful but also effective, for eligible voters to know what their options are,” stated Padilla.

Vote By Mail

Election officials want to ensure voter access and safety in the midst of the pandemic, so decades-long practices like vote by mail have guided their approach. New enhancements include sending every active registered voter a mail-in ballot by early October. Ballots will go out to citizens abroad by October 5, while military  voters will be sent ballots 45 days before the election.

California will count ballots postmarked by election day and received 17 days following the election. Voters can mail or deliver their ballots to a dropbox or polling station, and sign up to ‘Where’s My Ballot?’ to track their ballot and receive status alerts by SMS, email or voice.

To protect the integrity of vote by mail, California offers distinguishing features that guard against fake ballots – prepaid postage, election specific watermarks and unique barcodes on official envelopes, and scanning to ensure that each voter didn’t vote elsewhere. “Protocols in place to prevent against double voting,” said Padilla, are designed to make the system more trustworthy.

All ballots need to be signed and county officials will compare signatures on ballots to the ones on file to ensure the identity of the voter; ballots get rejected if signatures are mismatched or missing. Despite stringent security measures, the California Voter Foundation (CVF) reported that 1.7 percent of California vote-by-mail ballots get rejected on average, especially among young and newly registered voters. CVF’s president Kim Alexander noted that while vote by mail protects people during the coronavirus pandemic “it shifts responsibility for getting it right from poll workers to voters. Late return and envelope signatures missing or not sufficiently matching voters’ signatures on file are the leading reasons why some ballots are rejected.”

In an appeal to Padilla’s office, the ACLU and several other voter advocacy groups have suggested modifications to signature verification, arguing that “exact matches are not necessary to confirm a valid signature” and “similar characteristics between a signature being compared and any signature on file are sufficient to determine a signature is valid.”

In these instances, explained Padilla, the county is required to contact voters to give them the opportunity to fix the error so their votes can be counted.

In-person voting will be available to voters who may have accessibility issues, need language assistance, replacement ballots, curbside voting or who want to participate in same day registration. Voting locations will follow public health regulations for PPE, sanitation and social distancing, though voting venues have moved to larger arenas like the Dodgers Stadium, Chase Center and the Oakland Coliseum, which are better equipped for social distancing.

The next few weeks will focus on voter registration, voter access, educating the public about voting options and anticipated changes in the run up to November said Padilla. Eligible voters will be encouraged to register (the deadline is October 19), and all registered voters must verify their status or update their voter registration to be current, though same day registration is only available in person.

On the road to Election Day make a plan on how and when to vote, recommends Padilla, and vote early because every vote counts.

For more information go to Vote By Mail.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image credit: Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash
Photopin (previous image)

The Virus Is Hurting Your Vote

Will your vote be counted as we move to mail-in-voting this election year? The odds may not be in your favor.

The advent of COVID-19 has disrupted an already contentious US election cycle and precipitated conditions that could derail the voting process in Election 2020.

“Sizable shares of the population may not be able to vote safely in 2020,” said Dr. Nathaniel Persilly, a Stanford University law professor and political scientist, at a media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 21. The pandemic is forcing a massive shift in the way people cast their vote in the next few months as local jurisdictions reshape voting processes that could vary significantly across the country, a changeover that could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Without the political will to steer the electorate in a new normal balloting system, the pandemic will determine who votes and how they vote,” cautioned Dr. Persilly, who runs the Healthy Elections Project at Stanford.

By March it was clear that the pandemic was going to severely impact the election.  Tens of millions of people accustomed to voting by mail or at a polling station would need to move to a new voting system different than it has been historically. Changing how 50 to 60 million people vote in the midst of a relentless pandemic and a dysfunctional voting process could cause a crisis in American democracy, that particularly affects minorities and communities of color, said experts at the briefing.

L-R: Andrea Miller, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Terry Ao Minnis, Dr. Nathaniel Persilly

Will the American electorate be able to safely cast their vote in the next general election? Panelists agreed that conflicting factors make that outcome uncertain. Retrofitting the voting process is complicated by the lack of money and time needed for that transition, noted Dr. Persilly, because “we have three months not three years to deal with it.”

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to address election challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is not nearly enough said Dr. Persilly, calling it “a fraction – ten percent – of what is needed to pull off this election.”  In addition, the decentralization of the US electoral infrastructure has placed critical decisions about voting in the hands of over ten thousand local jurisdictions  and produced a fractured voting system.

It will be a challenging task to implement a pandemic-proof election when election officials are constrained by the absence of a national election strategy, inadequate funding, a postal service under duress and a record shortage of poll workers.

Power the Polls are reporting that voting facilities need 250,000 new poll workers to work the election. Most poll workers are over 60 and at risk due to the coronavirus. A new generation of poll workers is long overdue, remarked Dr. Persilly, suggesting the recruitment of a new workforce aged 18-20, adept at using technology and digital voting equipment, and who should receive ‘hazard pay’ of $300 a day to work the voting frontlines in the midst of a raging pandemic.

The  Pandemic Affects Voters of Color

A major concern during the pandemic is the threat to voter access for communities of color who represent a rising proportion of voters in both the 2020 presidential elections and in many swing states. The immigrant vote experienced “big jumps in voter tun out between 2014 and 2018,”  said Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data, noting that 28% of registered, foreign born voters are Asian Americans.

But experts say the logistics of moving to mail-in voting during the pandemic will threaten voter access  in communities of color.

“If they held an election tomorrow, 1.3 million voters will not be able to vote,” said Andrea Miller of Reclaim Our Vote. Certain states could exploit the pandemic to enforce voter suppression and voter intimidation strategies and prevent voters of color from casting their ballot. Miller confirmed that a concerted effort to block certain demographics from voting “is most definitely planned.”

Of 245 million age-eligible voters in the US, “48 million are unregistered or inactive,” explained Miller, referring to people once on the active voter list but who lost the right to cast a legal ballot. In southern and western states which maintain voter rolls, voters can be removed (deemed inactive/moved to the ‘inactive list’ and then to ‘unregistered’ status), for not having voted in a specific number of federal elections.

Source: Andrea Miller, Reclaim Our Vote Campaign  (NGP-VAN)

Currently 16.6 million community of color voters have been dropped from the voter rolls for Election 2020, said Miller, condemning the “severe bait and switch’ tactics used to manipulate and suppress unsuspecting voters.

People believe when they initially register to vote that its ‘forever’  explained Miller. The registration process does not make it clear they will be removed from voter rolls if they miss voting in certain election cycles. Recipients often miss the fine print on postcards reminding them to reconfirm their registered voter status – a requirement that “ought to be in big red letters on front of the postcard,” stated Miller.

Often it’s too late for ‘unregistered ‘voters on election day. Voter suppression states tend to have strict photo ID requirements and do not offer same day registration or automatic registration to ‘inactive;’ voters. In Texas, voters can be “unregistered’ for not renewing voter registration after two years.  “Texas makes no bones about this,” said Miller. “If you do not vote consistently, after two federal elections, they will begin the process of removal from voter rolls.”

Historically, vote by mail has been a ‘white process.’ Communities of color moving to mail in votes could have their ballots challenged if a signature does not match the one on file or is missing altogether.  Votes are less likely to be counted if their authenticity is challenged warned Dr. Persilly, urging voters to verify mail-in ballots at drop off voting facilities. “ A signature could derail your vote.”

Voters with limited English proficiency find the voting process daunting, added Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that three in four Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home and find the language in voting materials too complex to understand.

Ao Minnis reminded participants that the Voting Rights Act (Section 203) gives members of a language minority group the right to language assistance in the form of native language ballots, translator written materials, and multilingual poll workers.  Section 208 mandates that they can choose a friend or relative to assist with the voting process. But many voters are unaware of their voting rights.

AAJC has developed in-language translated materials to explain how Asian Americans can exercise their right to vote and run a hotline (888 API Vote or 888 2374 8683) in English and 8 Asian languages that includes Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

An Election Like No Other

Despite a rise in voter turnout, data from an ongoing AAPI survey shows both political parties have paid scant attention to the AAPI community. Director Ramakrishnan reported that 56% of respondents said they had no contact from the Democratic party or from Republicans (59 %). Targeted voter messaging is key to voter engagement and participation, said Ramakrishnan, emphasizing the need for ‘visually appealing outreach material’ that is demographically representative and culturally relevant.

Messaging via multiple touchpoints – door-door, phone calls, mailings or trusted messengers – should alleviate fears about COVID exposure and reinforce that drop off voting is safe, urged Ramakrishnan. Voter messaging must also counter misconceptions about fraud and explain tracking and verification processes. Failure to do so could reduce turnout and people will refrain from voting by mail, warned Ramakrishnan. In 2018, districts flipped in key congressional elections which have significant AAPI population “so really there should be  more outreach to immigrants,” he added.

The Asian American electorate is energized but “our community has yet to maximize our voting power,” said Ao Minnis.

In an election year like no other, more than voting rights are at stake for communities of color. If the pandemic determines who gets to vote and how in Election 2020, it will fundamentally change the practice of democratic elections and reshape the face of the American electorate.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Images: Healthy Elections Project; Ethnic Media Services

Mail-in Ballots for All Registered County Voters

HISTORIC CHANGE: VOTER’S CHOICE VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOTS ON THEIR WAY TO ALL VOTERS FOR MARCH 3, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY ELECTION Over 940,000 Ballots Mailed to County Voters 

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – A Vote by Mail ballot was mailed out to every active registered voter in the County today as part of the new voting model aimed at encouraging election participation by making casting a ballot easier than ever before. 

There are over 940,000 active registered voters in the County and for the first time in the history of Santa Clara County elections, all will be mailed a Vote by Mail packet. That includes an official ballot which may be filled out and placed in the accompanying postage-paid envelope, which is signed by the voter for verification and returned to the Registrars’ Office. 

Voters are encouraged to check their primary election ballot when they receive it. Nearly 300,000 Santa Clara County voters are registered as No Party Preference (NPP), and their primary election ballots will not include candidates for President. NPP voters who wish to cast a ballot in the presidential primary can still choose and cast a crossover ballot for American Independent, Democratic or Libertarian parties. All requests for new ballots to be mailed must be received no later than February 25. The Green, Peace & Freedom, and Republican parties opted to not allow crossover voting. If voters choose to cast a ballot for the Green, Peace & Freedom or Republican party they must re-register with that party. Voters can re-register online at RegistertoVote.ca.gov

The new Voter’s Choice Act election model was adopted by the Board of Supervisors last year with a goal of making it more convenient for Santa Clara County voters to cast a ballot. In addition to giving every voter the opportunity to return a ballot by mail, there are improved options for voting in person as well, with Vote Centers opening throughout the County up to 10 days before Election Day beginning on Saturday, February 22. Any Santa Clara County voter may go to any of the 110 Vote Center locations to vote in person. Early in-person voting begins today at the Registrars’ Office located at 1555 Berger Drive, Building 2, in San Jose. 

Board of Supervisors: Mike Wasserman, Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese, Susan Ellenberg, S. Joseph Simitian County Executive: Jeffrey V. Smith 

“This truly is the future of elections,” said Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey. “We have seen Vote by Mail rates skyrocket to the point where nearly 80 percent of voters – four out of five – chose this option in 2018. That figure was expected to continue to rise even if we did not adopt the Voter’s Choice model. It really just makes sense to send everyone a Vote by Mail ballot.” 

More than 7,000 Vote by Mail packets, also with postage-paid return envelopes, were previously mailed to military and overseas voters to ensure that they have enough time to return their ballots by the deadline. In order to be counted for the March 3 Presidential Primary Election, Vote by Mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and must be received at the Registrars’ Office by Friday, March 6. 

About 22 of Santa Clara County’s new Vote Centers will open on Saturday, February 22, 2020 in locations throughout the County – a full 10 days before Election Day for any voter who wishes to vote a live ballot. More will open in the final four days through Election Day, with a total of more than 110 locations. All Vote Centers can be used by any Santa Clara County voter – voters are no longer tied to a single polling place. Anyone can also get a replacement ballot at any of the Vote Centers and utilize additional services such as registration, language or accessibility assistance. Vote by Mail ballots can also be returned to any Vote Center or to any of the nearly 100 drop boxes countywide, many of which are available 24 hours a day. The list of all Vote Center and official drop box locations is posted on our website at eservices.sccgov.org. 

The last day to register to vote in the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary Election is February 18, in order for a ballot to be mailed to you by the deadline of February 25, and can be done online at Register to Vote. Voters wishing to check their registration may do so on the website at Check Your Registration Status. Conditional voter registration begins of February 19 through Election day for those voters that have moved into the county, need to update their address, or their party affiliation. 

Voters should complete a new registration form if they have moved, changed their name, or would like to change their political party preference. To register to vote in Santa Clara County, a voter must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, a Santa Clara County resident, and not imprisoned or on parole for a felony. 

For more information, including locations and hours of all Vote Centers, drop boxes and information about needed services, contact the Registrar of Voters’ Office at (408) 299-VOTE (8683) or toll-free at (866) 430-VOTE (8683), or visit www.sccvote.org. # # # 

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Early Voting in Santa Clara County

The Registrar of Voters’ Office mailed out the first ballots for the March 3 Presidential Primary Election, in a statement released by the County of Santa Clara on January 17. 

Vote by Mail for Military and Overseas Voters

Over 7000 ballots were sent early to military and overseas voters (45 days before the election), so they have time to return their ballots by the deadline via mail postage-free or by fax, in order to be counted for the March 3 Presidential Primary Election

Vote by Mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and must be received by Friday, March 6. Military and overseas voters also must sign the ballot’s return envelope so their signatures can be matched with their voter registration forms to confirm their identity.

“Santa Clara County voters who serve and live abroad have the same right to cast a ballot as those of us here at home,” said Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey. “We get their ballots out early …. ensuring their voices are heard even if they are on the other side of the world.” 

Registering to Vote for the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary Election

To register to vote in Santa Clara County, a voter must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, a Santa Clara County resident and not imprisoned or on parole for a felony.

The last day to register to vote  is February 18. You can register online at Register to Vote or check your registration status on Check Your Registration Status. Those who miss the registration deadline, can register within 14 days of the election (including on Election Day) as conditional voters at the Registrars’ Office or at any Santa Clara County Vote Center, subject to the determination of voter eligibility by the Registrar of Voters’ Office. Complete a new registration form if you have moved, changed your name or changing political party preference. Check here for details.

How to Vote Early in Santa Clara County 

All active registered voters in Santa Clara County will receive a Vote by Mail packet including an official ballot with postage-free return on February 3, 2020, twenty nine days before Election Day. Early voting begins at the Registrars’ office on that same date. You can return the Vote by Mail ballots to any of the Vote Centers or at any over the 100+ drop boxes across the country.

Vote Centers open a full 10 days before Election Day on Saturday, February 22, 2020 for live ballots. 

Of the more than 936,000 registered voters in Santa Clara County, nearly 300,000 are registered as No Party Preference (NPP). Their primary election ballots will not include candidates for President. Voters can cast a crossover vote in the presidential contest for American Independent, Democratic, and Libertarian parties. Voters who cast a crossover vote will continue to be registered as No Party Preference and will be able to request a crossover ballot in each future presidential primary election

The Green, Peace & Freedom, and Republican parties opted to not allow crossover voting in the presidential primary so NPP voters must re-register with these parties if they want to cast a ballot for any of them. Send all requests for new ballots by February 25. 

The Registrar of Voters needs at least 2,000 workers to operate the Vote Centers under the Voter’s Choice Act model. Voters will be using a new, updated voting system when they cast their ballots. To learn more or to apply, visit Work at a Vote Center.

For more information, contact the Registrar of Voters’ Office at (408) 299-VOTE (8683) or toll-free at (866) 430-VOTE (8683), or visit www.sccvote.org.