More Accessible Voting Leads to Longer Counting Times in California

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An election official seals a box full of ballots during voting for the California primary on June 7, 2016. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

It's getting easier to cast a ballot in California. You can mail your ballot in, drop it off at a polling location or visit a voting booth. But all that flexibility comes with a price -- it takes longer to get final voting results.

Vince Hall is executive director of Future of California Elections, a nonprofit focused on expanding voter participation and improving elections in the state.

"We are moving toward a system that is more inclusive and more accessible," Hall says. "Unfortunately, the consequence of that is complexity."

An increasing number of voters are choosing the vote-by-mail option. In the 2014 general election about 60 percent of ballots were cast that way. And Hall says 100 percent of the vote-by-mail ballots received have to go through a signature verification process.

Additionally, a recent law allows ballots postmarked on Election Day to be counted up to three days after the election. Hall says that's all slowing down the counting process.

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"In California an ever greater percentage of the total vote is being pushed into a post-election count," he says. "And therefore, the idea you can call close races on election night is an obsolete notion."

Kim Alexander, with the California Voter Foundation, acknowledges there is a trade-off to accepting ballots later. But she says it's better than the alternative.

"I've been in county elections offices the day after the election and it is absolutely heartbreaking when you see these trays and trays of ballots arrive ... and they come in on Wednesday and they couldn't be counted," she said.

It's estimated there are between 2 million and 3 million ballots left to be counted in California. The secretary of state shows about 6 million have already been processed.