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The Changing Face of California Elections

The best guess on turnout for tomorrow's eleciton is that about 9.5 million Californians will casts votes. That's about 55 percent of registered voters, a low turnout but not an unusual one for a midterm election. One thing that is very different from past elections, though: fewer than half of those casting ballots will do it the old-fashioned way—by going to the polls. Instead, they're mailing their ballots in. As Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation tells host Cy Musiker, that increasingly popular practice raises new concerns and challenges for both voters and voting officials. Also see: The California Voter Foundation's California Online Voter Guide.

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About 9.5 million Californians will vote during this midterm election, according to an estimate from the Field Poll. Of those, about 55 percent are voting by mail instead of going to the polls.

Absentee ballots were supposed to lighten the workload of election officials, but voting by mail is causing a whole new set of challenges for election officials, says Kim Alexander the president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

She says the biggest issue is with voters who don’t return their mail-in ballots until election day—when they can be brought directly to the polling place or county registrar’s office—or who simply lose their ballots. How widespread is the problem? As of Monday morning, an association of elections officials said many counties had received only about half of the absentee ballots they mailed out.

"A lot of these ballots are going missing," Alexander says. "So I think there's going to be a lot of voters showing up at their polling place tomorrow who were signed-up as vote-by-mail voters and don't have that ballot and still want to vote."

Those voters will be able to cast a provisional ballot on Tuesday if they go to their polling place. They should make sure that they receive a special envelope to place the ballot in and sign the envelope, so that the ballots can be processed specially.

"Election officials have to make sure that nobody is voting twice, so it takes a lot of extra work on the back-end of this process," Alexander says.

Every county is required to have a system to tell voters whether their ballot was received if requested, however the counties do not need to declare whether it was counted.

A lot of absentee ballots are not counted because of irregularities, Alexander says. Often ballots do not arrive on time or because voters have failed to sign the envelopes that ballots must be returned in. Election officials check those signatures against voter registration forms. Voters also often sign the ballot itself, which invalidates it, she says

"The funny thing about elections this time around is that 10 years ago people were predicting that by 2010 we would all be voting  on paperless electronic voting machines, that we'd be voting on the Internet. And it has not turned out that way at all," Alexander says. "In fact the opposite has happened. California and many states have turned to paper as our enduring voting process and I think that's the right move."
About 9.5 million Californians will vote during this midterm election, according to an estimate from the Field Poll. Of those, about 55 percent are voting by mail instead of going to the polls.

Absentee ballots were supposed to lighten the workload of election officials, but voting by mail is causing a whole new set of challenges for election officials, says Kim Alexander the president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.

She says the biggest issue is with voters who don’t return their mail-in ballots until election day—when they can be brought directly to the polling place or county registrar’s office—or who simply lose their ballots. How widespread is the problem? As of Monday morning, an association of elections officials said many counties had received only about half of the absentee ballots they mailed out.

"A lot of these ballots are going missing," Alexander says. "So I think there's going to be a lot of voters showing up at their polling place tomorrow who were signed-up as vote-by-mail voters and don't have that ballot and still want to vote."

Those voters will be able to cast a provisional ballot on Tuesday if they go to their polling place. They should make sure that they receive a special envelope to place the ballot in and sign the envelope, so that the ballots can be processed specially.

"Election officials have to make sure that nobody is voting twice, so it takes a lot of extra work on the back-end of this process," Alexander says.

Every county is required to have a system to tell voters whether their ballot was received if requested, however the counties do not need to declare whether it was counted.

A lot of absentee ballots are not counted because of irregularities, Alexander says. Often ballots do not arrive on time or because voters have failed to sign the envelopes that ballots must be returned in. Election officials check those signatures against voter registration forms. Voters also often sign the ballot itself, which invalidates it, she says

"The funny thing about elections this time around is that 10 years ago people were predicting that by 2010 we would all be voting  on paperless electronic voting machines, that we'd be voting on the Internet. And it has not turned out that way at all.," Alexander says. "In fact the opposite has happened. California and many states have turned to paper as our enduring voting process and I think that's the right move."

Military personnel are allowed to vote online in 33 states, and that concerns Alexander for many of the same reasons that electronic voting machines bother her: there's no audit trail and there's too many security flaws, she said. Three years ago California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen ordered county election officials to pull electronic voting machines because of security concerns.

"You can use paper ballots to make sure that voters have a durable ballot, that they can turn in and that has a paper trail built-in. And you can use optical scan technology to count the ballots," Alexander says. "I think that's the best of both worlds."Military personnel are allowed to vote online in 33 states, and that concerns Alexander for many of the same reasons that electronic voting machines bother her: there's no audit trail and there's too many security flaws, she said. Three years ago California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen ordered county election officials to pull electronic voting machines because of security concerns.

"You can use paper ballots to make sure that voters have a durable ballot, that they can turn in and that has a paper trail built-in. And you can use optical scan technology to count the ballots," Alexander says. "I think that's the best of both worlds."

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