Election security efforts in California to prevent voter fraud

Mail-in ballots are arriving in record numbers across the country and California county registrars are on the lookout for fakes.

In the Golden State, all registered voters should have received a vote-by-mail ballot without even asking for it. 

In an effort to reduce wait times and increase safety amid the coronavirus pandemic, voters can drop off the ballot in person or mail it back. While they must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3, it’s best to vote early.

“The truth of the matter is voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States of America,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “And it’s exceedingly rare in the state of California and exceedingly rare in vote-by-mail.”

Still, precautions have to be taken to guard against potential fraud. The 2020 Presidential Election has the state ratcheting up security to deter ballot tampering.

Padilla said each county selects specific paper types to print ballots, making it harder to duplicate. Additionally, it includes water marks and other distinguishing features, similar to cash, to prevent counterfeit ballots from getting sent in and counted.

But that may not be enough to quell fears over voting by mail. Some have spoken out about their distrust or lack of confidence in the United States Postal Service. There are also legal disputes in the state over unapproved drop boxes popping up. And even if voting in person may sound like a better plan, there are long lines and risks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At this point the average voter is going to feel very frustrated,” Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said. “That’s what worries me are these kind of indirect voter suppression mechanisms where people just feel like it’s hard, it’s confusing, it’s chaotic.”

So to make sure your vote counts, consider checking your voter guide for where official drop boxes are located. Typically, they’re on public or government property.

The process of mail-in voting in California has been largely successful for years. In 2016, roughly 60% of ballots were vote-by-mail ballots, according to state data.

It’s all managed by individual counties and minor problems, both technical and human errors have and are anticipated to arise again.

“There will be mistakes,” Levinson said. “I am confident there will not be a system-wide corruptive moment.”
California allows voters to register online and vote the same day. The online registration deadline was October 19, but residents can still register after that in-person.

And if anyone tries to vote twice, or submit more than one ballot, there is a mechanism in place to stop double-voting.

“It will basically be flagged,” Levinson said. “I’m confident there will not be systemic voter fraud.”

Instead, the biggest challenge may be election night when most Americans are waiting for official results. Already, elections officials have said that delays are expected.

With states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania expanding the mail-in process, it could take weeks before a winner is declared in some races.

“There’s a process at work and it’s a transparent process,” Padilla said. “It’s not time to panic. It’s time to be patient.” 

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@foxtv.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU