California election officials announced Friday that 99.4% of more than 15 million mail-in ballots were verified and counted in the November election, a rejection rate notably lower than the March primary even though more than twice as many people voted.
The election took place amid the coronavirus pandemic and the state took the precautionary step of mailing every voter a ballot, hoping to discourage large crowds at polling places where infections could potentially spread.
About 17.8 million ballots were cast overall, with nearly 87%, or — about 15.4 million, coming through the mail.
Of the mail ballots, 86,401 were rejected, mostly because the signature on the ballot did not match the voter’s signature on record. In other cases, the ballots arrived too late to be counted, the voter failed to sign the ballot — which is required — or the envelope arrived without a ballot inside.
The rejection rate was lower than in the March primary, when 102,428 mail-in ballots were disqualified in the state’s 58 counties, or about 1.5% or the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned.
“Even as vote-by-mail was expanded statewide, vote-by-mail ballot rejection rates continued to fall,” acting Secretary of State James Schwab said in a statement.
The state has long sought to reduce the rejection rate for mail-in ballots. Last year, the state extended the window to 17 days for ballots to arrive and still be counted after the November election, provided they were postmarked by Election Day. The previous limit was three days.
Registration also hit record levels in 2020 — more than 22 million were on the rolls — and more people voted in November than in any prior presidential election.
A proposal under consideration in the Legislature would extend the universal vote-by-mail system for another year, which would cover a potential recall election for Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021.
In the run-up to November, then-President Donald Trump was among the skeptics who questioned the integrity of mail-in elections, saying without evidence that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”
Historically, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting. States across the political spectrum rely solely on mail ballots, including Colorado, Utah and Washington state.
The state elections agency also said 269,862 Californians took advantage of same-day voter registration in the two weeks leading up to the election.