Sonoma County certified its final results from the June election Monday, nearly four weeks after voting concluded, making the county among the last in the state to finish processing ballots.
The county historically has lagged behind many of its peers in tallying the results, and this election was no different: Among California’s 58 counties, only six others still have unprocessed ballots remaining, most of them in rural areas, according to the most recent report from the California Secretary of State’s office. Counties have until Friday to report their final tallies.
The results show 134,458 ballots were cast in the Sonoma County’s June election, representing a turnout of 49.7 percent — far higher than statewide, where turnout currently stands at 37 percent. Nearly 82 percent of those who voted in the county cast ballots by mail.
One key factor driving the long tallying process, according to county election officials, is the high number of residents who turn in their mail-in ballots on Election Day or have them postmarked by then.
After Election Day this year, the county still had to process nearly 60,000 outstanding ballots, according to Bill Rousseau, the registrar of voters. Most were mail-in ballots, which take time to process because officials need to follow a lengthy procedure to verify them, including confirming signatures and checking them against the voter rolls to make sure residents don’t also cast a ballot in person.
If more voters turn in their ballots by the Friday before Election Day, the count would go faster, Rousseau said.
“That’s the main log jam,” Rousseau said. “It’s great that Sonoma County voters like to vote by mail, but they need to get their ballots in earlier if they want to see early results. That’s the biggest factor. You have to change voter behavior.”
Also contributing to the delay is the county’s outdated vote-counting system, Rousseau said. As they work to finalize the vote after the initial election night count, county officials can’t just add to what they’ve already tallied — they have to count the whole vote all over again, according to Rousseau.
“I’ve complained about this for years,” said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University. “They’re talking about using the Pony Express to add up ballots in a place where you can do everything on your iPhone.”
Sonoma County is “notoriously slow” in processing ballots and has long been “one of the poster children to come in last,” McCuan said.
Rousseau’s office already is working to roll out new voting technology that he said should help speed up the counting.
Under the new system, which the county plans to start using for smaller elections next year, officials won’t have to count the vote all over again, Rousseau said.
The new technology could shave a week off the time the county needs to finalize the vote, he said.
The county currently doesn’t provide updates in between the initial results posted on election night and the final vote tally.
The new system will allow the county to provide periodic updates, likely on a weekly basis until all ballots are processed, said Deva Marie Proto, who was just elected to succeed Rousseau as clerk-recorder-assessor and registrar of voters.