You know that feeling you get when you have just dropped your ballot in the mailbox and are overtaken by the sudden realization that your sacred right to participate in the cornerstone of democracy is now squarely in the hands of the United States Postal Service?
Well, that is still the case. Only this year for the first time you'll have a little more leeway.
That’s because a law that went into effect Jan. 1 stipulates vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day will be counted, provided they are received up to three days afterward. Meaning, you could potentially drop your ballot in the mail today and as long as it’s received by Friday, it will count. Previously, valid ballots had to be in the hands of officials by Election Day itself, lest they be useful only as paper airplane material.
This is good news for procrastinators and screwups. Last November, Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, speaking about the new law, told KQED’s Lisa Pickoff-White that she had seen trays of ballots go uncounted because they arrived too late.
Naturally, there’s a trade-off: The later the ballots come in, the longer it could take to figure out who the winner in. With the increasing popularity of vote-by-mail -- which accounted for more than 60 percent of ballots cast in California in 2014 -- delays have already occurred. In Alameda County last year, only about 5 percent of mail-in ballots arrived before Election Day, while about 212,000 were either dropped off at the polls or received by election officials on Election Day itself. A week later, 14,000 ballots still needed to be counted.
The late-arriving votes impacted the mayoral race in the city of Alameda. With incumbent Mayor Marie Gilmore losing to Trish Spencer by just 120 votes out of about 21,000 cast, Gilmore didn’t concede until eight days after the election.