Late absentee ballots slow vote count

Late absentee ballots slow vote count

Michele Ellson

Updated at 12:18 p.m. Tuesday, November 11 in BOLD

Alamedans have experienced a week of suspense as they wait for all the votes to be counted in the super-close mayor’s race.

While the poll results were tallied and posted shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Alameda County’s Registrar of Voters still had nearly 125,000 ballots left to process – 82,000 of them vote-by-mail ballots walked in to polling stations on Election Day.

“It’s like somebody dropped 82,000 pieces of mail on our doorstep at one time,” Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis said.

The registrar got about 112,000 vote by mail ballots before day-of election preparations began, Dupuis said – ballots election workers had several weeks to count.

The additional, day-of absentee votes pushed this year’s count through the weekend; provisional ballots were still being counted Monday. As of early Tuesday morning, Trish Spencer was leading the mayor's race by 129 votes, a gap it now seems highly unlikely Mayor Marie Gilmore will be able to bridge.

The count is set to continue Wednesday, and Alameda County Registrar Tim Dupuis said he hopes he'll be offer able to complete it and provide final, unofficial numbers then. The votes that are still to be tallied are mainly provisional ballots that election workers need to remake by hand because the county's voting machines can't read them, Dupuis said. He said it's hard to know how many are left since they're divided into several trays that aren't full, but he offered a rough estimate of 5,000 to 6,000 votes that remain to be counted for all of Alameda County.

In Alameda's other close race - for a third seat on the Alameda Health Care District Board of Directors - newcomer Jim Meyers extended his lead over incumbent Lynn Bratchett to 195 votes, results released early Tuesday morning show.

For years, election officials across the state pushed vote-by-mail balloting as an easy alternative to day-of voting at the polls, and one that allowed busy voters greater time flexibility in casting their ballot. The push worked: About half of Alameda County’s voters, and nearly two-thirds of the City of Alameda’s, are registered to vote by mail.

But getting voters to submit their ballot ahead of Election Day has proved to be more difficult. For this November’s election, a little under half of voters who cast vote-by-mail ballots sent them in too late to be counted ahead of Election Day or walked them into the polls.

Those walk-in ballots are set aside by poll workers and brought en masse to the registrar’s Oakland offices, where the ballots are opened and signatures checked before they can be counted. Ballots that can't be read by voting machines have to be remade by election workers, by hand.

The count has made for a tense wait for Gilmore and Spencer, who have spent much of the past week at the registrar’s offices as workers counted more than 7,000 additional absentee and provisional votes – more than a third of the total number of ballots cast in the November 4 mayor’s race.

Dupuis said he expects the wait for results in close races to worsen in 2016, when voters will be selecting a new president. The wait could also be aggravated by a new state law that requires county election officials to tally ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day if they are postmarked on or before the election.

Dupuis urged voters with vote by mail ballots to cast them well in advance of Election Day.

“I want to see people vote,” he said. “I would also like for us to be able to get the answers to these elections out quicker.”


As of 1:34 a.m. Tuesday, November 11


Marie Gilmore (i): 10,314/49.53%
Trish Spencer: 10,443/50.15


Lynn Bratchett (i): 7,326/21.62
Jim Meyers: 7,518/22.18


Submitted by 10dB (not verified) on Tue, Nov 11, 2014

Thank you, Alamedian, for the best explanation I've seen so far of why it takes so long to come up with a final tally in close races. For the past few years I have been a poll worker. Yes, we do get paid, but if you figure the hours spent (6AM to past 9PM on Election Day plus training plus setup the night before) it's minimum wage. I do it because I believe in our democratic process. In the polling place where I served we had 165 people cast votes in person, their votes are counted instantly and put on a memory cartridge read and tallied overnight by the Registry of Voters. But another 65 dropped off vote-by-mail ballots. We can't touch them, they must go to the Registry of Voters to check the voter's name and signature. Multiply our 65 by the hundreds of polling places in Alameda County and you'll understand why it takes so long to get a final count. Dropping off your vote-by-mail envelope at a polling place on Election Day is a convenience, but people should understand the impact it has on the vote-counting process.

Submitted by William Collins (not verified) on Tue, Nov 11, 2014

Glad to be able to use Mailed ballot option, although I rarely drop at poll place and mail in up to 3 weeks in advance.

Happy Vet's Day everyone!

Bill Collins
Alameda, CA

Submitted by marvie (not verified) on Tue, Nov 11, 2014

What I can't understand is how various sources can project who wins the mayoral race with so many votes uncounted.........

Submitted by elliott gorelick (not verified) on Wed, Nov 12, 2014

There are very few City of Alameda votes left. The thousands refer to countywide. Even 500 votes left from the City of Alameda (an impossibly high number), they would have to break over 62% for Gilmore to change the result. If you look at those 500 votes as a sample and the 20,000+ votes as the actual result then it is the equivalent that a random poll of 500 voters would have to be more than 3 or 4 standard deviations off of the actual result for Gilmore to win. The back of the envelope math suggests that is less than 1 in 100 and probably less than 1 in 10,000. Those low odds are based on having that many votes left which not likely (probably less than 1 in 10) so if you think predicting outcomes that are better than 99.9% certain is irresponsible then I guess you might question calling the race at this point.

Submitted by m arian (not verified) on Wed, Nov 12, 2014

I worked as a neutral poll observer [not paid] for the Election Integrity Project in 2012, when Obama sent Federal observers to Alameda precincts. I also participated as a partisan observer in the Measure B recount at Alameda County ROV last year [which gave rise to Measure BB this year].
I still walk in my permanent absentee ballot every time for two reasons: I know when Election Day is, but I always seem to miss the postmark deadline for mailing it in time; and I never figure out how much postage is needed. When I vote, I want it to count. I wonder why absentee ballots don't have postage paid envelopes.