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How Your Vote Is Counted

Published on: 4/26/2013 5:40 PM
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The polls close at 8:00 pm on Election Night, but it usually takes hours for all precincts to show results, and weeks before the final totals are known. Ever wondered why? Here's a quick look at what happens to your ballot after you cast it.
 
Election Night
 
  • The first results are posted shortly after 8:00 pm - these are the Vote by Mail ballots that were returned early
  • After that, we have to wait for the first of the polling place precincts across the county to complete their paperwork, pack up their supplies, and return the ballots - this can take an hour or more
  • As precincts arrive, their ballots are counted by high-speed scanners and added to the total results
  • The posted results are updated periodically throughout the night - the results web page will show how many precincts have reported and the time of the last update
  • When all precincts have reported, the Election Night counting is done; however, there are still more ballots to count and a lot more work to do before the results become official (see below)
     
Post-Election Canvass

California Elections Code requires the Registrar of Voters to perform a post-election canvass before certifying the final results. The canvass period usually lasts for 28 days after an election. During this time, ROV counts all remaining valid ballots and performs a series of mandated audits to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the election.
 
Election Results will be updated periodically during the Canvass period according to the schedule posted on the results web page.
 
Ballots counted after Election Day
  • "Last Minute" Vote by Mail Ballots: Vote by Mail ballots that arrive on Election Day are processed and counted starting the next day; these take longer to count than a precinct ballot because they have to be signature-verified; most of these are counted by the Friday after the election
  • Provisional Ballots: these are the last ballots counted because they have to be researched & verified; it may take a few weeks, but every valid vote will be counted
  • Damaged/Unreadable Ballots: some ballots are torn, damaged, or marked in such a way that the tallying machines can't read them and require additional processing
  • Write-In Votes: when the voter writes in the name of a candidate, that vote must be tallied manually
Audits
 
  • Review of all paperwork completed at the precincts to make sure all ballots are accounted for
  • Manual recount of ballots from a random 1% sample of precincts to ensure that vote tabulation equipment is working accurately