If you’re up late tomorrow night waiting for California’s results in congressional races, you might be advised to just go to bed.
That’s because California has switched in recent years to a mail-in ballot system aimed at maximizing voter turnout, at the cost of speedy election returns.
In California, votes will be counted even if they are mailed on Election Day, provided that they are received within three days. With all the ballots likely not received until week’s end, it will take time for the voter signature to be verified and the vote to be counted.
Whether the rest of the country will also be waiting depends on whether control of Congress is decided without input from California.
The Golden State has the largest number of seats in the U.S. House, including several hotly contested races that could remain undecided for days, or even weeks.
That includes the 25th, 39th and 48 congressional districts, where polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight predicts the winner could be decided by a single percentage point.
In the 25th, FiveThirtyEight projects Democrat Katie Hill will claim 50.9 percent of the voter share, while Republican incumbent Steve Knight claims 49.1; in the 39th, Democrat Gil Cisneros is projected to receive 50.5 percent of the vote to Republican Young Kim’s 49.5; and in the 48th, Democrat Harley Rouda is projected to take 50.7 percent of the voter share to incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s 49.3.
All this comes as part of a push to make the ballot box accessible to as many voters as possible. As some states pass laws aimed at restricting the voting franchise, such as by requiring photo ID or stripping infrequent voters from the rolls, California has taken such steps in recent years as allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and enacting a “motor voter” law that automatically registers driver’s license applicants to vote unless they opt out.
“I would say that California always takes time to count the ballots. This isn’t new,” said Sam Mahood, spokesman for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “The important thing to note to people is what we call the ‘postmark plus three’ law. So you’re going to have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that week with ballots still coming in and being counted.”
Within a day or two of the election, counties will put out a report estimating the number of outstanding ballots to be counted. Counties have 30 days, Dec. 7, to count and certify the votes. Then the secretary of state’s office has another week, or Dec. 14, to also certify the results.