The 2022 midterms were the first major elections to occur in California after the Golden State approved all-mail voting in September 2021. Under the new system, all registered voters in the state are automatically mailed a ballot for each election cycle (Californians can still opt to vote in person if they wish). But during California’s first foray into mass mail-in balloting for the 2022 midterms, 226,250 mail ballots were rejected and more than 10 million remain unaccounted for, according to a new report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
Per the report, the most common reason for rejection of mail ballots in the 2022 cycle was late arrival (48 percent of rejects). Under California law, mail ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day and arrive at the tabulation center within seven days. For the state’s 2022 general elections, more than 57,000 ballots arrived after Nov. 15 (the seven-day mark). Largely as a result of the switch to mail-in balloting, more than 57,000 Californians were disenfranchised. Such voter disenfranchisement is sure to continue as long as the state keeps its vote-by-mail system.
“Mail ballots disenfranchise,” PILF President J. Christian Adams said in a statement. “There are many reasons mail ballots fail ultimately to count. No one casting a ballot at home can correct an error before it’s too late. California’s vote-by-mail demonstration should serve as a warning to state legislators elsewhere.”
Another concerning figure coming from California’s midterm election cycle is that 10 million ballots still remain unaccounted for, after processing all polling place votes and rejected ballots. The assumption by election officials is that the majority of these ballots were ignored or thrown out by recipients. But such an information gap increases the risk of fraud. As the report notes, “The public cannot know how many ballots were disregarded, delivered to wrong mailboxes, or even withheld from the proper recipient by someone at the same address.”
Unaccounted mail-in ballots are a serious liability for states with all-mail voting. According to data from the federal Election Assistance Commission, 28.3 million mail-in ballots are still missing from elections conducted between 2012 and 2018. While there is no way of knowing whether these missing mail-in ballots were used fraudulently, they still pose a risk to election integrity.
Take ballot harvesting — the practice of third-party organizers collecting ballots from voters and returning them to election offices — for example. States that approve all-mail voting greatly incentivize ballot harvesting, since Democrat doorknockers can coax potential voters to fill out their ballots and hand them over to their newfound Democrat friends on the spot, rather than having to convince voters to do the legwork themselves. Partisan activists may take advantage of such a lax system. And they already do.
All-mail voting also creates more opportunities for chaos, which in turn undermines voters’ confidence. Under a traditional system where voters cast ballots in person, poll workers must account for all election materials and have a log of the number of ballots cast. When problems occur, such as ballots disappearing, the issue is resolved quickly due to the data trail. Not so with all-mail elections.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, multiple states switched to mail-in balloting under the guise of protecting public health. These voting systems were put in place with hardly any safeguards or scrutiny of the risks posed by all-mail elections. Currently, there are eight states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington — that primarily conduct their elections by mail.