Tabulators Endgame: How to Track, What to Expect, and Why!

Let’s just pretend that I superimposed the faces of a whole bunch of candidates over those of this group….

I put a lot of information into some comments on Vern’s Liveblog post, but it years for more attention, so….

(1) How to Find Out What Votes Remain to Be Counted

It’s easy! You just go to the ever-helpful “What’s Left to Count” page, and … huh … errr… umm … what’s happened to the ever-helpful “What’s Left to Count” page?

More minutes later than I’d like to admit, I found it. It wasn’t showing up on an ROV site search for that phrase. (I used to be able to just call Neal Kelley when something like that confounded me, but I don’t (at least yet) have that sort of relationship with Bob Page.)

OK, you have to go to https://www.ocvote.gov/results/whats-left-to-count/total-ballots-left-to-count — but despite that URL the page is now entitled “What’s Left to Process”, which is probably why it doesn’t show up on a search involving the word “count.” (Dear good people at the Registrar of Voters Office: please fix this! Label it both ways for now, if you wish, but make a “what’s left to count” search work!)

We know from the first report on Election Night that 442,333 ballots were in “Precinct Zero”; these were necessarily Vote-by-Mail ballots received on or before election day. So the figures below are just adding to those. My notes will be [italicized within brackets.]

Here’s what you get, with this example coming from Monday night, on the Left to Process page:

*IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Ballot estimates will expand as eligible ballots (mailed on or before Election Day) are received via USPS and ballots deposited in official drop boxes (prior to 8PM on Election Night) are received and processed.

Note: These estimates were prepared based on averages and will be adjusted following additional detailed sorting.

Total estimated number of ballots processed (after Election Day): 210,151
Total Estimated Left to process: 176,541

Vote-by-mail ballots received on or before Election Day via mail left to process

Total vote-by-mail ballots processed: 55,915
Total estimated number of vote-by-mail ballots left to process: 1,110

[Note that the ballots that arrived before Election Day did not arrive early enough to be included in “Precinct Zero.”]

Ballots From Drop Boxes Left to Process

Total ballots from Drop Boxes processed: 91,639
Total estimated number of ballots from Drop Boxes left to process: 152

[Note that these Drop Box ballots came in days before or relatively early on Election Day; others are listed as part of the “Final Pickup” noted below.]

*Vote-by-Mail Returned at Vote Centers Left to Process

Total vote-by-mail ballots returned at the Vote Centers processed: 62,597

Total estimated number of vote-by-mail ballots returned at the Vote Centers left to process: 51,580

[Note that most VBM ballots returned at Vote Centers would be from Election Day; relative few Vote Centers opened earlier than that.]

Duplicated Ballot Left to Process

Total ballots to be duplicated processed: 0
Total estimated number of duplicated ballots left to process: 2,308

[This includes torn or damaged ballots, those rejected by the scanners, etc.]

*Eligible Ballots received after Election Day Left to Process

Total eligible ballots processed: 0

Total estimated number of eligible ballots left to process: 23,757

[Of necessity, this means late-arriving absentee ballots.]

Conditional Voter Registrations and Provisional Ballots Left to Process

Total eligible Conditional Voter Registrations and provisional ballots processed: 0

Total estimated number of Conditional Voter Registrations and provisional ballots left to process: 7,194

[Many of these will end up being rejected for lack of proof of eligibility.]

*Final Drop Box Pickup Ballots Left to Process

Total eligible final drop box pickups processed: 0
Total estimated number of final drop box pickups left to process: 90,000

[Just as the final VBM ballots that don’t arrive until after Election Day have their own category, so do the Drop Box ballots that arrive too late to be counted on Election Day itself.]

RAVBM Ballots Left to Process

Total eligible RAVBM ballots processed: 0
Total estimated number of RAVBM ballots left to process: 440

[I believe, but am not positive, that these are Military and other Americans living abroad.]

Here, you can see that the ROV estimates (loosely) that 386,692 ballots will have been cast in this election, of which 210,151 (about 54.35%) have already been processed and 176,541 remain. This checks out exactly.

This means that (as of Monday), there were still a lot of ballots left to count. But some of those — provisional ballots, those with defects (in signature or location or maybe date) to correct — probably won’t count, or will contain votes for only a limited number of races, so City Council, School Board, Water Board, and Special District races won’t likely show the same increase as marquee races.

To help you (heh-heh) process the above, you should also read the Final Ballots to Count page. (Spoiler: these final ballots to be counted include damaged ballots, ballots rejected by the scanner on the first pass, “orphan ballots” (ones that don’t contain all of their pages, so they wait to see if those pages arrive), and likely others.)

(2) What Accounts for Ideological Differences in When Ballots Arrive?

Earlier ballots — whether mail-ins, vote centers, or drop boxes — tend to favor Republicans and/or conservatives; later ones tend to favor Democrats and/or liberals. There are some arguments that this has to do with characteristics of party identification itself: Republicans have generally tended to be more organized and unified — features that Democratic leadership demands of its own voters, mostly tending to alienate them — and Democrats tend to want to think over the choices more and make up their own minds by themselves. (As the old saw goes: Republicans fall in line (with their leaders); Democrats want to fall in love (with their candidates.”) There’s something to this, but I think that it has more to do with a characteristic that correlates with party and ideology, but has an independents (and often prior) effect.

I’ve argued here (for years, I think) that a big distinction to understand in waiting for the vote is not “Democrat vs. Republican” or “Liberal vs. Conservative” per se, but “Promptness vs. Procrastination.”

Certain personality traits have been found to distinguish between major party members and broad ideologies. Republicans tend to value discipline, neatness, promptness, loyalty to leaders (sometimes called the “strict/punitive father” orientation. Democrats tend to value individuality, creativity, casualness, and acting on personal judgment, a “permissive/nurturing father” orientation. (Obviously, there are large exceptions within each group: strict union voters don’t have to think much about their own choices if their labor leaders have made their endorsements; and conservatism contains a large and ornery libertarian tendency.)

“Promptness” is both a value and personality trait ascribed to conservativism far more than to liberalism. (Yes, there are plenty of individual exceptions in both categories; this is overall.) And promptness is antagonistic to taking one’s time to come up with the correct choice. I can attest to this: I get many pleas every election year to come out with my endorsements already because people are trying to decide on a vote for a school board or a local proposition or an appellate judge, etc. Maybe it’s because of who I know, but they don’t seem to come from conservatives.

We can apply these precepts to understanding why election returns show a typical path over a ballot count.

(3) The Usual Ideological Turns in the Path of Ballot Counting

Let’s start with mail in ballots.

Those who turn in their ballots early enough to be counted within “Precinct Zero” — the first returns to be announced on Election Night — will tend to be more organized, more prone to follow authority, and care relatively less about personally coming up with the right decision in every race (which might lead them to wait for later developments, just to be sure.) In other words, apart from some liberal politics geeks, they will tend to be conservative and Republican (with many ballots from liberals in a hurry, but that group is not a high proportion overall.) So the initial count will skew red.

People who mail in their ballots towards the end, so that they take days to arrive (and are the last category to be counted other than provisional, damaged, paper, and orphaned ballots), will tend to skew much more liberal. (And they are also more likely to be disqualified.)

Similarly, with drop boxes, earlier votes will be collected and tabulated earlier than the later, especially last, to arrive.

Now that almost all (from what I can tell) vote centers are open only on Election Day, only those who have waited until the end will use them.

This is the main reason for the “blue shift” in ballot tallies — and why you get slogans like “STOP THE COUNT!” from the likes of Trump in 2020. Just like Democrats are less likely to participate in special elections and primaries (which is why conservatives love those lower-turnout affairs), Democrats are less likely to turn in ballots early. It is an irrefutable and immovable law of nature and nothing can dislodge it! (Or, if not immutable, it’s close enough for these purposes.)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)