PD Editorial: Making sure every vote gets counted

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Who won the election?

Across California, the answer is only partially clear. In Sonoma County and statewide, some races on the Nov. 6 ballot remain so close that the victor might not be known for weeks.

Here in Sonoma County, for instance, Measure U, a parcel tax in the Monte Rio fire district, has exactly two-thirds of the vote — the exact majority required for approval.

Some counties — though, unfortunately, not Sonoma County — will provide updates as they tally votes. All counties must certify their vote totals by Dec. 7, with the secretary of state announcing official results by Dec. 14. Those are the legal deadlines, but the public would be well served if votes are counted sooner. Just don’t sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed.

Sonoma County has more than 66,000 ballots to count, including 57,500 mail-in ballots. Statewide, nearly 2.8 million mail-in ballots awaited processing on election night, along with more than 1.1 million provisional and other uncounted ballots.

California took an all-of-the-above approach to making this election convenient for voters. Most counties operated precinct-level polling places, while five counties —Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo — mailed ballots to all voters and opened vote centers for several days, where people could update their registrations, vote in person or get replacement ballots.

Sonoma County mailed 202,000 ballots to voters. Fewer than half were returned in time to be counted on election night. Only about 36,000 voters went to the traditional polls.

Conducting elections is a complicated process, especially with California’s hybrid voting system. Fortunately, there is a new, overdue effort to ensure each mail-in ballot is counted.

Elections officials used to contact voters if a signature was missing on a submitted mail ballot, but they weren’t required to notify voters if the signatures was deemed invalid.

That inconsistency made no sense and wrongly took away voting rights, as Sonoma County resident Peter La Follette contended in a lawsuit filed after learning that his ballot had been rejected in 2016.

In the 2016 general election, discrepancies in voter signatures resulted in several hundred ballots being rejected in Sonoma County — and nearly 26,000 statewide, according to election officials. La Follette’s lawsuit contended the actual number was as high as 45,000.

Several states, including Washington, Oregon and Arizona, allow voters a chance to fix their signatures. Now California does, too.

A newly enacted law, sponsored by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, directs counties to notify mail voters if their signatures are questioned. Signatures may change over time, people forget to sign their name exactly as it is on their voter registration, or voters in the same household accidentally sign each other’s ballot.

If you took the time to vote, it behooves you to take another minute to verify that your vote was counted. Local voters can make sure that their ballots were received and processed at vote.sonoma-county.org.

Voting is the foundation of democracy, but it is a joint responsibility. Voters must show up to vote, which for mail voters includes correctly signing their ballots. And county election offices must count all ballots accurately and expeditiously.

California now ranks No. 3 among states for ease of voting, trailing Oregon, which has only vote by mail, and Colorado, which has a hybrid system. The only thing stopping us from rising to the top is official inertia.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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