Riverside County registrar: Why vote-by-mail ballot counting takes so long

More than 48 hours after polls closed, Riverside County Registrar of Voters has 164,000 ballots — or 24 percent of the vote — left to count.

It was again the last county in the state to report its Election Day results, which by Secretary of State’s measure means counting ballots from each of the precincts.

Riverside County was last of 58 for the third election in a row.

But that doesn’t even include the vote-by-mail, the provisional or the damaged ballots — and that added up to 183,000 ballots in Riverside County that still needed to be counted, even as results listed the misleading “100 percent precincts reporting”

Counting those remaining ballots — the ever-popular vote-by-mail ballot — is trickier than just a vote at a precinct, Registrar Kari Verjil said.

“It sounds like, ‘Why can’t you just rip open the ballot and count it?’ There’s a little more work that has to be done before we can do that,” she said.

First, the vote-by-mail ballots are sorted by their precincts. That started Wednesday.

Then the envelope goes into a machine to scan the signature on the back. That signature appears on a screen next to an image of that voter’s voter registration card.

A poll worker checks the two pictures to make sure the signatures match.

“It goes pretty fast once we get the images scanned,” Verjil said.

Then the ballot envelopes are sliced open, and a machine puffs air inside. A poll worker pulls the ballot out, unfolds it and checks to make sure it’s not damaged and that the voter followed instructions (i.e. drew lines, not circling their choices).

The final step? Actually counting the vote, which means running it through a ballot scanner.

“It’s a big production. There’s a lot of manual work that goes into it,” Verjil said.

About 50 poll workers spent Thursday working to verify signatures, then sending the next batch of ballots through the scanners, Verjil said.

It could take until Dec. 4 — the state-mandated deadline — to certify the final results.