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Ballot counting takes a long time — and that's a good thing

The midterm election was three weeks ago, but as of Monday evening, there were a projected 8,700 outstanding ballots left to count.

By law, the county Registrar of Voters (ROV) has 30 days to certify an election — that's a little more than a week away.

Delays such as this are not unusual, California Voter Foundation president and founder Kim Alexander said. Her organization works to improve the voting process.

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Since California moved to allow all voters to cast a ballot by mail, it takes the Registrar of Voters more time to process the ballots. More than 90% of voters in San Diego County voted by mail this election, with some of those ballots arriving on or after Election Day (Mailed ballots post-marked on election day must be received no later than seven days after the election to be considered valid).

"(The Registrar has) to make sure that nobody's voting more than once, only valid ballots are being counted, and if there is a problem with the ballot like the envelope wasn't signed by the voter," Alexander said. "The county is required to contact voters and give them a chance to submit a valid signature, so their ballot can be counted.”

The process to submit a valid signature is called curing a ballot. The Registrar of Voters' office told KPBS in an email that all the remaining ballots are waiting to be cured.

"Once 'cured' the ballot can be removed from the envelope and processed into the count," the email said. "Voters have until Dec. 6 to cure these situations."

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In close races, campaigns are also contacting those curing-ballot voters. For example, in California Assembly District 47, which straddles Riverside and San Bernardino counties, only 52 votes separate Republican Greg Wallis and Democrat Christy Holstege.

While the delay may be frustrating to some voters, it's part of the process to keep elections secure, Alexander said.

“What's happening is our election officials are doing their job," she said. "They're making sure that only valid ballots that are cast are counted, and there are a lot of protections in place to make sure that voters aren't unnecessarily disenfranchised to vote by mail."

Alexander said a lot of voters this election cycle either dropped off their ballots at voting centers or mailed their ballots on Election Day, contributing to the delay.

Once all ballots are counted, election officials will still have to do a post-election audit before certifying the results.