UPDATE: CA Secretary of State Issues "Print-at-Home" Ballot Guidance

AP Photo/Ben Gray

As I covered Monday, for the California recall election on September 14, the state is allowing all voters to request a “Remote Access Vote By Mail” ballot, essentially allowing them to print a ballot at home and mail it in. The RAVBM program was originally intended to be used by voters with handicaps who use assistive technology or by military members serving overseas, but because of a last-minute gut-and-amend bill passed by the California legislature on the same day that the Secretary of State certified that the recall proponents had gathered the required number of signatures to trigger a recall election, is available to all voters in the recall.

At the time, I noted that it was unclear based on guidance posted on the Secretary of State’s website exactly how those ballots would be processed and what type of audit trail there would be. I’d reached out to Secretary Weber’s office with questions, and some of those questions were answered in the form of a memorandum from the SOS’s office to all County Clerks and Registrars of Voters dated August 11.

From this memorandum, we learn a few things about the RAVBM process.

For instance, we know that when county elections officials receive the printed RAVBM the “ballot selections…will be transferred onto a ballot by an elections official in order to be tabulated.”

And, we know that when someone is issued a RAVBM (via a link sent to the email address they provide), there is a record kept of that:

When a county issues an RAVBM, the county must indicate the voter was issued an RAVBM by providing VoteCal with a vote-by-mail ballot record and include the flag “isRAVBM” set to True.

We also know that the county must report the number of RAVBM’s received in an election to the Secretary of State along with any technical issues reported and any “migitations.”

Certification of RAVBMs requires California jurisdictions that use an RAVBM system to provide a report to the Secretary of State, within 30 calendar days of certifying the election results, listing the number of voters that used the system and all technical issues reported (if any) along with any mitigations.

Many readers have wondered how they can help ensure that RAVBM’s aren’t used fraudulently in the recall election. What laws govern that? RedState spoke with Mark Meuser, a California elections attorney who is also running for US Senate, and asked that question. Meuser said that the laws governing the processing and counting of RAVBM ballots are the same laws that govern the processing and counting of vote-by-mail ballots since RAVBM is a subset of vote-by-mail. A few highlights:

Counties may begin processing vote by mail ballot envelopes as early as 29 days before election day – including running them through the tabulating machine – but no one is allowed to access the count before the polls close on Election Day.

The processing of vote by mail ballot envelopes and the ballots themselves is open to the public, and both “vote by mail observers and the public” must be given 48 hours’ notice, including the date, time, and place, when vote by mail ballots will be processed.

Processing vote by mail ballot return envelopes “may” include, according to the statute:

“[V]erifying the voter’s signature on the vote by mail ballot return envelope pursuant to Section 3019 and updating voter history records.”

Processing vote by mail ballots entails:

“[O]pening vote by mail ballot return envelopes, removing ballots, duplicating any damaged ballots, and preparing the ballots to be machine read, or machine reading them, including processing write-in votes so that they can be tallied by the machine.”

Certain people are always allowed to observe the processing and counting proceedings, including a member of the county grand jury, one member of the county’s Democratic central committee, and one member of the county’s Republican central committee. “Other interested organizations” are also permitted to observe, but the law doesn’t list specific organizations.

The law provides that observers:

[S]hall be allowed sufficiently close access to enable them to observe the vote by mail ballot return envelopes and the signatures thereon and challenge whether those individuals handling vote by mail ballots are following established procedures, including all of the following:
(1) Verifying signatures and addresses on the vote by mail ballot return envelopes by comparing them to voter registration information.
(2) Duplicating accurately damaged or defective ballots.
(3) Securing vote by mail ballots to prevent tampering with them before they are counted on election day.

How can we be sure that someone who returned a RAVBM ballot doesn’t go to the polling place on Election Day and vote a second time? In that instance, it’s no different than ensuring that someone who returned a vote by mail ballot doesn’t vote a second time. Since this is an all-mail ballot election, any voter who goes to the polls in person and doesn’t bring their mail ballot with them must cast a provisional ballot. A list of those voters who cast provisional ballots will be compared with those who returned mail ballots to ensure the person didn’t vote twice.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s no possibility of fraud or error. There are numerous stories of voters receiving more than one ballot. And, with the number of people who moved out of California this year, it’s likely that some non-residents are still on the voter rolls and they could sign up for and cast a RAVBM ballot. According to Meuser, conservatives are more harmed by voter apathy caused by dishonest media narratives, meaning that the state’s very liberal media portrays the state’s residents as overwhelmingly Democrat and progressive when in reality they are not. Meuser said that 8 million evangelical Christians sat out the 2018 election, and a new report at Breitbart estimates that 1.3 million conservative Californians aren’t even registered to vote. Why? They don’t believe their vote matters. They believe that even if they vote, there will be so much fraud that their vote won’t count. They believe that even if they vote, there are so many Democrats voting that their vote won’t count. What happens when millions of people buy into that narrative? A self-fulfilling prophecy is created.

We must battle for election integrity, without a doubt, and ensure that there are adequate numbers of poll watchers and mail ballot observers. But we also must make sure that we actually vote and, just as importantly, convince five or ten others (who’ll be voting for the recall, of course) to get out and vote. Return your mail ballot to your county elections office as early as possible so that when those election night numbers are released there is no doubt that Californians want Gavin Newsom recalled.