Human Voter Guide recap: Some challenges, but smoother election than primary

Poll workers Apolonia Corrales, left, and Laura Pallares help voters cast their ballots at Echo Park Deep Pool in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2016. Pallares is a student at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center and this was her first time volunteering.
Poll workers Apolonia Corrales, left, and Laura Pallares help voters cast their ballots at Echo Park Deep Pool in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2016. Pallares is a student at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center and this was her first time volunteering.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The Human Voter Guide is back with a recap of this year's election. Votes in California are still being counted, and there are several logistical questions about what happened Tuesday. 

But the election is behind us, so first off: the Human Voter Guide will be taking a break. We're always here for your questions, however. You can find me on Twitter via @maryplummer and our Human Voter Guide hotline will remain available for questions. You can call or text: 323-538-5722.

Before we pack up, let's start with several questions about things to know after the election:

Q: Overall, how did the election go? Los Angeles County voters had a lot of challenges in the primary. Was the general election better run?

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation who monitors voter problems, thought so.

"I think, by comparison, things went much more smoothly in California," Alexander said, during an interview with Chris Nichols at Capital Public Radio. "Of course, we didn't have the challenge in the general election that we did in the primary, where your voting choices were restricted based on your party registration."

Alexander said the main problems she heard last week dealt with questions about where to vote and concerns about possible voter intimidation. No major issues were reported with the latter, however.

This is consistent with what we saw and heard here at KPCC. There were certainly problems, but they were different than the issues during the primary.

Q: What were some of those problems?

We heard some reports of broken voting equipment and reports of poll workers dispensing incorrect information. 

KPCC listeners also flagged problems with vote by mail ballots that didn't arrive in time or had the wrong addressee. We know this was a frustrating experience, and we helped a lot of people get to their polling locations to cast provisional ballots as a workaround for issues like these.

Q: We talked a lot about early voting this season. The lines in L.A. County were very long. Is that a problem we'll see going forward?

Early voting was a brand new program for L.A. County, so in many ways this election was a test run.

There are several factors that made the election challenging. As Alexander pointed out, there was considerable tension around voting this election given the contentious presidential race. She said that made people more eager to vote early and ensure their votes were counted.

The long lines illustrated a large need that the relatively few locations were ill-equipped to handle. So it's an area that election officials will need to review. 

New legislation will change voting in coming years in California. There will be fewer local polling places, for example, and more regional voting centers. We'll likely see major adjustments to early voting and a shift toward mail ballots. Expect to see more changes to the way we vote.

More on this below.

Q: What about voting by mail. Overall, how did that go for local voters?

Vote by mail is becoming more of a challenge for election officials because of the increased use of mail ballots. This was one of the biggest problem areas reported by people who called or texted our Human Voter Guide hotline.

That old phrase "the devil is in the details" really captures the challenge of voting by mail. It can be especially confusing for first-time voters. Some of the problems we heard involved people wondering where to drop off vote by mail ballots, how to fill out mail ballots, how much postage to use and what to do if voters lost or damaged parts of their mail ballots. 

Q: We know Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that's expected to drastically increase vote by mail in the coming years. How do you expect that to play out in the future?

That's right. Under the new voting overhaul, thousands of polling locations across the state are expected to shut down, and voters will be encouraged to vote at new voting centers or to mail in their ballots.

The changes are expected to roll out first in Orange County and about a dozen other counties starting in 2018. L.A. County will follow later.

If the primary and general election this year are any guide, we know that a lot of education is going to need to happen to get voters up to speed on the new system.

It's likely going to be a heavier lift here in L.A. County given the millions of voters here. Another issue: the county is known for having among the lowest vote by mail rates in the state, so to improve that, officials will need to ramp up their outreach efforts.

Q: One thing we've learned is that vote by mail can feel very mysterious to voters. Lots of people worry their votes might not count. Is there any way to track those votes by mail ballots?

Yes. All counties in California allow people to track both vote by mail ballots and provisional ballots. Many counties have this set up so you can check online. If you live in L.A. County, you can track your ballot online

Remember, vote counting in California is among the slowest in the country. So it may take awhile before all ballots are tallied. 

Q: How long are we talking about?

Give it a few weeks before you start worrying. There are still lots of votes to be counted.

As of the update late last week from the Secretary of State, there were more than 4 million ballots statewide still to be counted. Due to a fairly new law in California, today is the deadline for vote by mail ballots to arrive and be counted.

Series: Human Voter Guide

We're in the middle of one of the most contentious elections we've seen in a long time, so there's a lot of interest in voting this year. But there's also a lot of confusion. To help clear the way, we're introducing KPCC's Human Voter Guide, a series of questions-and-answers about the California elections.

Have a question? Email our senior political reporter Mary Plummer, tweet her @maryplummer or leave a voice mail or text at 323-538-5722.