Less than two weeks since mail-in ballots were sent to every registered voter in California, officials announced this week that over 1.5 million mail-in ballots had already been returned.
That means roughly 7 percent of the 21 million ballots that were sent out earlier this month have been processed. For perspective, there were just 150,000 returned ballots at the same point in time during the 2016 presidential election.
This is surely a record, but this is a year for unprecedented changes.
“We have more vote-by-mail ballots out there than we ever have,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “That being said, we are seeing huge numbers that don’t seem to be explained by simply the amount of additional vote-by-mail ballots that are out there.”
Dr. Romero attributes the flood of ballots to a few factors. For one, she surveyed eligible voters in California and found that 14 percent of respondents were concerned about becoming infected with the coronavirus if they were to vote in-person at a polling site. For African-Americans, that number was twice as high.
In addition, President Trump’s claims about voter fraud leading up to the elections and worries about Postal Service delays might have spurred people to cast their ballots as soon as possible. That would leave plenty of time for ballots to make it through the mail and for officials to review ballots for discrepancies.
Keep up with Election 2020
Dr. Romero also said that many people were eager to vote and wanted to make a personal statement by voting right away. “This has been an election that many people have waited for,” she said.
Right now, there is no indication of whether the return numbers will continue to accrue at a high pace or if they will tail away after an early rush.
[See The Times’s full voter guide for Californians, with information about how, when and where to cast your ballot.]
According to figures released by the California Secretary of State’s office, almost twice as many people have returned ballots by mail than by drop box. Republican Party members and state officials have clashed over illegal drop boxes this week. After state leaders sent a cease-and-desist order to remove unauthorized boxes, Republicans doubled down on their efforts to harvest ballots, setting up a potential legal battle.
Although the mail-in ballot return numbers are big, officials should still brace themselves for busy in-person voting, Dr. Romero said. Large numbers of people are expected to vote in-person this year, including people with language assistance needs or voters who require same-day registration. Voters might also decide to wait to drop off their ballot at polling locations so it can be looked over by a poll worker, Dr. Romero said.
But no matter what, voting is happening and that’s good news.
“It’s great for our democracy to see this kind of early, early turnout,” she said.
Here’s what else we’re following
The Trump administration has rejected California’s request for disaster relief aid for six recent fires that have scorched more than 1.8 million acres in land, destroyed thousands of structures and caused at least three deaths, a state official said. [The New York Times]
Parts of Southern California are under a fire watch into Friday as Santa Ana winds and hot weather converge. [Los Angeles Times]
New maps show how climate change is making California’s “fire weather” worse. [ProPublica]
A former Mexican defense minister was arrested on Thursday night after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport with his family, according to the Mexican government, becoming the first high-ranking military official to be taken into custody in the United States in connection with drug-related corruption in his country. [The New York Times]
Senator Kamala Harris settled into her pragmatic politics at Howard University, where her understanding of power was honed. [The New York Times]
Though most Latino voters favor Democrats, Hispanic men are an enduring part of President Trump’s base. For many of them, he has a macho appeal: He is forceful, unapologetic and a symbol of economic success in their eyes. [The New York Times]
Kanye West is on your ballot. How did that happen? [Mercury News]
The season premiere of the Modern Love podcast features a Bay Area family and a farewell to a “family” minivan. [The New York Times]
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.