It’s safe to say Bay Area voting officials like early voting.
While ballots were still being counted days after Election Day, experts said more people voted in California in the 2020 election than ever.
Much of that has to do with the Covid-19 restrictions prompting the state to send mail-in ballots to more than 21 million registered voters, which officials said made things much easier on Election Day.
Statewide, more than 11.2 million voters—at least 2.7 million in the Bay Area—cast ballots before Election Day. Nationwide, the number of early voters exceeded 100 million by Monday evening—almost 70 percent of the 136.5 million people who voted in 2016.
Though the state didn’t have final numbers Wednesday, some estimates projected more than 16 million votes would eventually be counted statewide.
Alameda County hit about 1 million registered voters for this election—966,000, according to registrar Tim Dupuis. The county received about 675,000 mail-in ballots, had 45,000 in-person voters, and is still counting ballots dropped off on Election Day. To put things in perspective, Dupuis said after the March primary, before Covid-19 caused the massive shift to mail-in voting, he didn't leave the office until 5am. the next morning. On Tuesday, everyone went home around 12:30am.
“Turnout is looking good,” Dupuis said. “We are still doing our accounting to see where we are. Early voting helped greatly. The Thursday update will be significant. I hear that most of my peers are having the same experience. This will be definitely part of the conversation with the Secretary of State as we look at future elections.”
Contra Costa County Assistant Registrar of Voters Scott Konopasek estimated his office will be counting the rest of the week. They reached about 363,000 by the end of Election Day.
“My best estimate is that we have about 180,000 more to count,” he said.
Konopasek said about 40,000 voters cast ballots in person on Election Day, which was about a quarter of what they’d usually expect. The number contributed to short lines and no technical problems.
Konopasek said state law usually requires counties doing early voting—of which there are 15 in California, he said—to open a certain number of polling places 11 days before Election Day, then more sites a week later. The number is based on registered voters.
A regular year would force the county to scramble to find money for more sites and workers. “It’s really expensive,” Konopasek said. “But if they changed the formula to just the four days before the election, that would be great.”
San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Mark Church said his county saw record vote numbers: 301,257 via mail and 33,000 in person. With drop-offs, the total came to 352,537. “Overall, the election was very smooth,” Church said. “Voting was steady at the vote centers, with very short wait times across the board.”
San Francisco said it was still processing about 90,000 ballots on Wednesday. Elections chief John Arntz said turnout was about 85 percent, up from 81 percent in 2016.
“Early voting was steady from the beginning,” Arntz said. “(It’s) unknown if such participation rates will continue in future elections. However, the in-person turnout at the polling places was around 6 percent; much lower than we expected, especially for a presidential election.”
Marin County registrar Lynda Roberts said her office counted more than 100,000 ballots by Wednesday afternoon, with about 52,000 left to process. She said turnout may reach 90 percent. A substantial proportion of Napa County’s votes came through the mail and drop boxes: 42,180, versus only 734 cast in person. Registrar John Tuteur said he expects records will be broken.
“The message of vote safe, vote early seems to have resonated with our voters,” he said.
Solano County reported receiving 258,850 votes—139,270 by mail, according to John Gardner, Solano’s assistant registrar of voters.
“We’re still counting (and) processing ballots, so turnout is growing," Gardner said. “We should exceed previous years’ turnout. Obviously, early voting is a factor, with over 52 percent of votes received prior to the Election Day.”
Sonoma County said it didn’t have updates by Wednesday afternoon. By Tuesday, officials processed more than 203,000 ballots—67 percent of its registered voters.
“We won’t have final turnout numbers until we have processed everything,” said Registrar Deva Marie Proto. “Everything seems to have gone pretty well. We are hearing from quite a few poll workers and voters that they like the new system and voting model.”
Santa Clara County reported a running total of 661,000 ballots received by mid-afternoon on Election Day.
Officials said it could take days or even weeks beyond Election Day to finalize results for some races. Elections need to be certified by Dec. 3.
Once sent, ballots can be tracked online here.