California has the largest number of registered voters in the nation—over 21.9 million registered voters. Ensuring that all votes cast by eligible voters are accurately processed and counted takes time.
On Election Night, county elections officials must begin reporting results to the Secretary of State no more than two hours after they begin tallying votes after the polls close. County elections officials then continue to report results periodically throughout Election Night until all precinct vote totals have been reported.
The first election results are typically ballots received before Election Day, which include vote-by-mail ballots and early voting location ballots. County elections officials may begin opening and processing vote-by-mail ballot envelopes up to 29 days before Election Day, but those results cannot be accessed or shared with the public until all polls close on Election Day.
Election results posted on Election Night are semi-official results based on the in-person ballots cast at voting locations on Election Day, any early voted ballots cast in person prior to Election Day, and any vote-by-mail ballots received and processed prior to Election Day.
The complete tally of votes is never finished on Election Night as vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received with seven days after the election, as well as any provisional ballots cast, must still be counted. These ballots are always counted during the official canvass period in the 30 days after Election Day.
While media outlets and others may “call” an election contest, or candidates may “concede” to their opponent, on Election Night or the in days following, these calls and concessions are based on the semi-official results and not the final election results. The election results are never final until the Secretary of State has compiled the official statewide results after all county elections officials have reported their official canvass of the votes.
By law, California county elections officials have 30 days, also known as the canvass period, to count every valid ballot and conduct a required post-election audit. During the official canvass, elections officials are required to conduct a public 1% manual tally of the ballots tabulated by the county’s voting system in order to verify the accuracy of the automated count.
During the 30-day canvass period, county elections officials will process and count provisional ballots, ballots from voters who registered and voted conditionally (Same Day Voter Registration), and vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days of the election. This process includes a comparison of signatures on envelopes to the signatures on file. If a signature is missing or does not compare to the signature on file, state law requires county elections officials to reach out to voters to verify their signature to ensure that their ballot can be counted. By law, voters are allowed to verify their signature up to two days before the county certifies their results. These processes ensure that all valid votes cast by eligible voters can be counted.
County elections officials must finalize their official results to the Secretary of State by 30 days after the election (E+30). The Secretary of State will then certify the results 38 days after the election (E+38).