SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — California election officials marked the first day of early voting for the November general election by sending out millions of mail-in ballots to voters Monday, including nearly 2 million in Orange County, a former Republican stronghold and the site of hotly contested congressional elections in recent years.
Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, state officials have altered the election process to meet health guidelines, including by extending the timeline to vote, implementing a ballot-tracking system and mandating at least one physical polling site per 10,000 voters.
This past May, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered that every active registered voter receive a mail-in ballot. California’s 58 counties are responsible for printing, issuing, receiving and processing their voters’ ballots.
At the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, staff moved boxes of ballots from a loading dock onto trucks Monday — the beginning of a process that will put ballots in the hands of the county’s 1.7 million registered voters.
Before trucks were loaded, officials sought to quell any voter concerns about participating in an election during a global pandemic and amid a contentious presidential race.
Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told reporters his office will ensure voters have multiple options to participate in the election in a safe and secure fashion.
“We’re not going to tolerate any intimidation or rule breaking,” Kelley said. “We’re going to ensure that the rules are followed.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer echoed Kelley’s statement, saying his prosecutorial agency will enforce state election laws and review any complaints of fraud.
“This election is being perceived as different than any other election in history, whether that’s true or not,” Spitzer said. “If anyone is planning to engage in mischief, we will enforce the law.”
The county has installed boxes where voters can deposit the ballot received by mail and will open 170 in-person voting sites.
Once a voter casts their ballot at a polling site, their mail-in ballot becomes void immediately, Kelley said.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in the press conference each county election office chooses unique paper types and watermarks for its ballots to buttress election security and that each ballot carries a barcode unique to each registered voter.
“Our democracy works best when every eligible voter participates,” Padilla said, adding he strongly recommends voters submit ballots as early as possible.
A voter’s signature on the mail-in ballot must match a voter’s registration record. If it doesn’t, the voter should respond to officials’ queries to avoid having their ballot thrown out, Padilla said.
With 29 days until the general election, officials are asking voters to sign up at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to receive email or phone alerts about their ballot, including the status of their ballot.
More than 21 million people are registered to vote for the Nov. 3 election in the Golden State, a figure that represents 84% of all eligible voters, according to the state’s latest registration report.
Mail-in voting has been sharply criticized by Republican officials nationwide and by President Donald Trump, who has said in election rallies and the recent presidential debate the process is susceptible to fraud.
Padilla, a Democrat, noted voter fraud is a rare occurrence in U.S. elections and said it was a shame Trump would espouse rhetoric that strips away confidence in the election process.
“Attacks on the integrity of the election does nothing but undermine confidence in the election process, which every voter should have,” Padilla said. “What we hear from Trump is usually baseless and not helpful.”
Spitzer, who previously served as county supervisor as a Republican, said his office would be “invisible” during the voting process itself but fair in any review of voter misconduct reports.
“We will not allow rhetoric to control this election,” Spitzer told reporters. “We will be fair. We will be neutral. Our job is not to take sides.”
California residents have until Oct. 19 to register for the Nov. 3 election. If they miss the deadline they can register on Election Day at polling places and county election offices, according to the Secretary of State’s office.