Registrars across the state are busy tallying returns from this year’s midterm election and with the number of mail-in and drop-off ballots, it’s an operation that requires patience and steadiness.
That’s because mailed ballots take longer to arrive and process. State law requires counties to count all mail ballots that arrive up to seven days after the polls close, as long as those ballots are postmarked by election day.
An estimated 91% of voters opted to mail in their ballots in the state’s June primary election, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office.
The state’s Chief Elections Officer, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, was also on the ballot and will be embarking on her first full term since being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Associated Press called the race in Weber’s favor hours after polls closed.
Weber sat down with CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez on Thursday to provide a look at how election results are shaping up and what voters should keep in mind with a few weeks to go before results are certified.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On how the Election Day process works
We work with all the counties in the state, the 58 counties that administer the elections, our staff works with all of them. All of our registrars of voters, whether they're elected or whether they're appointed by their county board of supervisors, we work with them to make sure they have the necessary support to accomplish the goals of the election. We work with them actually months before the election begins. We have weekly meetings to make sure everybody's got all the materials they need.
And then, of course, on Election Day, all of our staff is on hand, their staff is on hand. We're basically troubleshooting at the state level any issue that might arise. And this was a very smooth election without glitches.
All the data comes into our office. I was there when the polls closed at 8:00 p.m., and it's in our office where we push a button that basically [alerts] counties to send in their data. We become the central hub for all of the counties to send their information to.
On what protocols are in place if an issue arises at a polling place
If something happens at a polling place, if it's technology, that's one thing. But if it turns out to be an incident of a person causing difficulty at that particular site, our folks have been trained on how to de-escalate situations, to make sure people are OK and to keep everyone safe. If that fails, if they're not able to do that, then they are to contact us or their local sheriff's department. If they contact us, then we'll make sure we have a group with not only our attorney general’s office but with our highway patrol as well as our FBI. We have a system that goes from one level to the next to make sure that people are safe and that person is removed from that environment.
On retaining employees during a time of heightened violence toward election workers
The county does the hiring in this election, so we have very little to do with that. We've made clear to our registrars of voters that we will protect them as much as we possibly can. And whoever decides to disrupt [voting] situations, we will prosecute them to the maximum extent of the law. The attorney general's office has worked with us on that as well as the FBI.
At a statewide level, however, we do recruit poll workers. If a county discovers they have fewer of them than required, we will help the county find them. And we have helped counties find individuals to work at their local polls that may come from other counties. We've been recruiting high school students who love to work at the polls and they make money, they get paid for being there.
Thus far, we haven't been in a situation where we haven't had our polls adequately staffed, but it is something we're concerned about. As a result, we're doing those things that make [poll workers] safer; we've gone out and we look at their physical facilities, particularly in the smaller areas, to make sure that what they need for security is there.
We haven't had any incidents of real difficulty here, and we're fortunate in that sense, but we are aware that threats do occur. We didn't have much happening like that this [Election Day], and we're very grateful for that.
On the atmosphere within the secretary of state's office
Interestingly enough, people don't know that the voting section is really not the largest section of the secretary of state's office. Our largest section is our business filings and nonprofit filings. Many of our employees don't directly work with elections, they volunteer around election time, they'll man the hotline and things like that. We have a great sense of volunteerism among our staff, but most of them don't [work in elections].
We have a wonderful team who know elections backwards and forwards and who have a system that, to me, was just absolutely amazing to watch. It's so intricate and it has so many small pieces to it to ensure that elections go smoothly. We're very fortunate to have them. Many of them have 20 or 30 years of experience of running elections.
There's always real excitement on election night. If you were in the building, you would see not only all the workers, but you see all the potlucks and the things that they do because they're there from early morning to the next day.
On the mail in ballot system and voter turnout
It's hard to predict why people don't vote. For those of us who vote all the time and take it so seriously, it's mind-boggling that people would get a ballot and not turn it in, or wait until the very last minute and then try to figure it out. If you're a voter, you get a card from us reminding you of where to go to vote and we notify you when your ballot has been received and counted if you sign up for Where's My Ballot. We've done all these things to make it easier for people, and I think it's just a matter of individual motivation.
We've had so many events with young people as well as with adults about voting. One thing we know is that those over the age of 65 actually vote. We need to have some conversations with them to help our young folks and others in between figure out why they don't vote.
On priorities for her upcoming full term
We are very much involved with young people, so working on civic education and helping kids understand what we mean when we say democracy. We're working with our young people to really create a greater and stronger unit that's there, trying to get them to register and vote.
83% of Californians are actually registered to vote right now, 22 million people. We need to see that 22 million at the polls. We still have about five or six million that are not registered, 27 million people are eligible to vote. We need to figure out how we can be more effective in not only recruiting them to register, which is important, but more importantly getting them to the polls on the day of the election. We're going to be analyzing the data to figure out what we can do with our community groups to get greater numbers of people voting on a regular basis.