Fire in official ballot drop boxes, unofficial ballot drop boxes set up to harvest ballots, the attorney general demanding the names of voters using the unofficial drop boxes, questionable ballots mailed in California, warnings of violence erupting around the election, and the COVID-19 crisis have all made the process of counting this year’s vote the most uncertain in the state’s history. The multiple ballot issues likely will change typical voter behavior so that while results in California are predicted to be finalized in close elections weeks after election day, the reality is the determination of winners may come earlier than expected. 

California is already under a blizzard of mail-in ballots. As of this writing, about 4 million ballots, 18% of all ballots mailed, have been returned. They include 2.2 million from Democrats (22% of the ballots mailed to Democratic voters) more than 635,000 Republicans (16% of the Republican voter ballots mailed) and more than 900,000 from all other parties including No Party Preference (14%.)

However, there’s a chance the record setting pace could be slowed by the recent fire set in a ballot collection drop box in Baldwin Park. The possible arson incident in the drop box was well covered by the state’s media and it’s possible a good number of voters might alter their plans to vote by mail fearing their ballot might be destroyed if left in an unguarded county ballot drop box. 

The integrity of the vote-by-mail ballot has also been questioned by a group called the Election Integrity Project. The group claims in a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla to have found that 440,000 mailed ballots are “questionable” because many ballots were mailed to voters who died or moved, or that a number of voters received more than one ballot. 

Whether these accusations are verified or not the idea of election integrity has gained traction with some voters, especially with President Trump leading that charge. 

The state has attempted to reassure voters about mail in ballots. As the California Chamber of Commerce’s Marty Wilson wrote on this site Monday, the state has included safeguards in the mail in process, already in wide use by California voters in recent elections. Still, the issue of ballot integrity will be challenged by the ballot box fire, especially if more cases of sabotage occur, authorities demand for voter’s names and other questions about ballot security that have been raised. 

What these unusual circumstances might be mean to vote counting could also bring a surprise.

Democrats have gone out of their way to promote mail in ballots and early voting. Republicans, on the whole, seem to have greater doubts about the integrity of the mail in ballot system. In recent California elections, many Republicans have relied on the mail in ballots. Given the current circumstances, many may choose to wait to vote at the voting centers opened just before election day. In past elections, the late votes tend to come from Democratic and more liberal voters. This time the Democrats have been encouraged to vote early. 

Could there be more Republican votes coming later than usual if the Republican voters wait until election day? Will those usual late Democratic voters show up earlier this year in mail in ballots meaning initial returns could show a more liberal bent to the vote? And how will news about ballot sabotage or reporting suggesting possible election violence work on the voters’ plans to participate in the election?

The suspicion in this corner is that another unusual twist to this most unusual year will occur in this election and that we may know the results of the election sooner than expected.