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San Joaquin County saw uptick in vote-by-mail ballots, count continues

Ballot count continues in San Joaquin County
Ballot count continues in San Joaquin County 03:11

STOCKTON -- Votes are being processed across California as county elections teams work long days to process, verify and count votes in the Midterm Election. 

Multiple county elections officials, including those in Placer and San Joaquin Counties, reported the majority of voters chose the vote-by-mail option. All active registered voters in California received a vote-by-mail ballot ahead of the election, but could opt to turn it in at the drop box or on Election Day at a local polling location. 

These ballots take 24-48 hours to be processed from start to finish in San Joaquin County, according to the Registrar of Voters Olivia Hale, depending on how many ballots they receive from USPS each day. Ballots can arrive up to 7 days after Election Day in California. 

As of Thursday, California counties shared updated numbers of processed ballots and outstanding ballots, that still need to be processed, to the California Secretary of State's Office. In San Joaquin County, Hale said there are around 85,000 ballots that still need to be processed. 

The majority of San Joaquin County voters opted to vote by mail versus in person on Election Day. By the numbers, around 16,000 people voted in person out of 160,000 votes.

"We have seen the uptick of vote by mail, and the fact that every single voter in the state now gets a vote by mail ballot, that's the preferred method and option." said Hale. 

There are around 100 employees working on ballot processing in San Joaquin County, all of them have had background checks. They utilize a sorting machine that can handle hundreds of envelopes at a time to assist in counting and sorting the ballots by precinct. 

Signature comparisons are a crucial part of the process that ensures the ballot belongs to the registered voter. Election teams are trained on signature comparison and must follow up with California voters if there are questions or concerns about the signature. 

The process, Hale said, may seem slow, but it's imperative to ensure an accurate election, which she said, was the most important role of any county elections team. 

The rise in vote-by-mail ballots can be attributed to Californians all having access to ballots in the mail, but also, to the Voter's Choice Act, according to a September 2020 report by the Public Policy Institute. 

The report reviewed greater vote-by-mail impacted voter turnout in California, specifically in counties that adopted the Voter's Choice Act. The VCA requires all participating counties to mail every voter a ballot; expand in-person early voting; allow voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county; and provide secure ballot drop-off locations throughout the county. 

27 California counties have adopted the VCA including Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. 

The same PPIC report also acknowledged the debate about whether more vote-by-mail benefits one of the two major parties. This debate was fueled by then-President Donald Trump, who claimed the system helped Democrats more than Republicans. PPIC found partisans vote at higher rates under the Voter's Choice Act, but the differences between the parties in the increase are small and favor different parties in different elections. 

A UC Davis Assistant Professor in Political Science said voters should expect a "rollercoaster effect" as votes are processed with the changes to the numbers.

"If there are partisan differences in how people vote, for example, if a disproportionate number of democrats chose to vote by mail, and a disproportionate number of republicans vote in person, there may be a little bit more of a roller coaster effect. There are jumps from one party over the other," said Christopher Hare, a UC Davis Assistant Professor of Political Science. 

San Joaquin County will provide vote-count updates on the next two Tuesdays. Hale said she hopes they will be near the end, if not completed with tabulating by November 22nd, but they legally have until nearly a week into December to certify the results. 

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