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Californians Harboring Doubts About Election Integrity, Poll Finds

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Mail-in ballots wait to be counted at the Santa Clara Registrar of Voters on Feb. 19, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

With just over five weeks until Election Day, many California voters are concerned about the integrity of the presidential election and doubt the willingness of their fellow citizens to accept the eventual results, according to a poll released Monday by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

Supporters of both President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden share concerns over the election's integrity. Overall, 42% of likely voters believe it is unlikely the election "will be conducted in a way that's fair and open."

The findings reflect months of heated political and legal battles over the expansion of vote-by-mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The poll finds Californians gearing up for record vote-by-mail participation while President Trump continues to make unsubstantiated claims that widespread mail-in voting will result in elevated voter fraud.

“It was not that long ago that voters in both parties had high confidence in the integrity of the election process," said Eric Schickler, co-director of the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, in a statement. "The loss of that confidence is a worrisome sign for democratic stability going forward.”

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The election doubts are loudest at the political poles. Of voters identifying themselves as "very liberal," 56% think the elections will not be conducted fairly, a view shared by 50% of self-identified "very conservative" voters. Meanwhile, just 34% of moderates harbor such concerns about the administration of the election.

Voters on both sides of the political aisle are gearing up for a bitterly contested race. About 82% of likely voters in California worry many Americans won't accept the results of the presidential election, a concern shared by 85% of Trump supporters and 81% of Biden supporters.

California voters are also preparing for a historic shift in the voting process in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, every voter will be mailed a ballot and many counties will reduce the number of in-person voting opportunities — the result of bills passed this summer and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

State election officials are urging Californians to avoid gathering at the polls and to mail in their ballots instead. The Berkeley IGS poll finds a generally positive response to that push, with 78% of likely voters saying they plan to vote-by-mail.

That level of vote-by-mail participation would eclipse the 72% of voters who cast a mail ballot in the state's March primary, but would fall short of the near-universal adoption of vote-by-mail that some election officials are forecasting.

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Overall, voters are mostly confident in the U.S. Postal Service's role in the election, with 58% of likely voters expressing trust that USPS will deliver mail ballots in a safe and timely manner.

Notably, 56% of young voters disagree. A recent study found a high rate of rejected mail ballots among young voters, with lateness being the top reason for rejection. Election officials urge voters who are returning their ballots on or near Election Day to utilize a county dropbox or polling location instead of a USPS mailbox.

Despite broad concerns, 22% of likely voters plan to vote in-person, including half of Trump supporters. A possible red flag for elections officials is that just 5% of likely voters plan to vote in-person before election day.

Many counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, San Diego and Ventura, are opening fewer polling places on Election Day than in years past, but hope to make up for that by offering early in-person voting from October 31st to November 2nd.

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