Contra Costa Alters Mail-In Ballot Exchange Policy for Primary

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File photo. Voters should be able to turn in vote-by-mail ballots for replacement ballots on Election Day. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Update, June 7: Contra Costa County elections officials plan to resume a controversial practice involving vote-by-mail ballots after Tuesday’s primary election.

Original post:
The vast majority of Californians wait until very close to Election Day to submit their ballots, especially those who vote-by-mail. State law protects tardy mail-in voters with two options: postmark the ballot by Election Day or bring it to the polling place.

But a number of Contra Costa County voters registered as "no party preference" were given provisional ballots when they recently tried to turn in their vote-by-mail ballots. Provisional ballots aren't immediately counted on election night. The county has long had this practice, a county spokesman wrote in a statement:

Contra Costa’s long standing and proven practice regarding the re-issuing of ballots to vote by mail voters is:
“When a voter, who has previously been issued a ballot, shows up at a polling place and requests another ballot; that voter, in all cases, will be issued a ballot but it must be cast provisionally.”

Concerned citizens contacted KQED, and we asked the Secretary of State about Contra Costa's policy. A spokesman for the Secretary of State said that such a practice was incorrect. In an email the spokesman told KQED that his office was contacting the county. Shortly after, Contra Costa County announced a change in policy.

Now, voters in Contra Costa County will be able to bring in their vote-by-mail ballots, surrender them, and then receive replacement ballots. People who lost their vote-by-mail ballots will still be able to cast provisional ballots.


Some supporters of Bernie Sanders are campaigning for mail-in voters to turn in their ballots tomorrow and specifically request Democratic ballots.

Contra Costa County previously did not give mail-in voters replacement ballots because of fraud concerns, according to a statement:

"This practice has reduced the complexity of Election Day operations for our volunteer workers, has reduced the possibility of voter fraud, has increased the efficiency of voting, has reduced costs dramatically while adding no burden to voters requiring a second ballot."

County officials say that they will work with the Secretary of State's office to identify potential fraud and that any attempts at fraud or "gaming the accommodation" will be referred for prosecution.