Mail-in ballots might slow election tally

With as many as half of California voters expected to cast their ballots by mail and several statewide contests narrowing to dead heats, Election Day has the potential to morph into election week.

The number of California voters casting mail-in ballots this year is expected to surpass the count in 2008, when about 42 percent of the 13.7 million ballots cast in the presidential election were sent by mail. By comparison, 25 percent voted by mail in 2000.

The state distributed 8.9 million mail-in ballots this election cycle, about 20 percent more than were requested in 2008.

The rise in mail-in voting means some of the highest-profile contests, from statewide tax initiatives to nationally watched congressional races, might not be decided by the time voters go to bed on Election Day if enough of those voters wait until the last minute to turn in their ballots.

“We’ve given people more avenues to vote, but to ensure there’s no fraud and error, we have to take more time to verify the ballots,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “We’ve traded speed for convenience.”

Absentee ballots take longer to count because election workers must compare the signature on the mailed envelope with the one on that voter’s registration card.

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