Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots throughout California are sitting in county registrar offices right now and will never be counted.
Some signatures on ballot envelopes don't match the one on the voter registration card. Other ballots are from previous elections. But the most common reason a ballot doesn't get counted: it is not in the county's hands by 8 p.m. on Election Night. An Election Day postmark is not good enough.
Many counties don't notify voters their ballots won't be counted.
"I think it's a dirty little secret that we're keeping from voters, quite frankly, this vote-by-mail ballots that are too late to get counted," said Kim Alexander, founder and president, California Voter Foundation.
In 2008, nearly half a million ballots were not counted in the three statewide elections that year.
Los Angeles County currently has more than 6,000 late ballots, while Santa Clara County has nearly 2,000. Sacramento County's count is approaching 1,500.
Voter turnout could actually be raised if late ballots were included.
Lawmakers tried to give elections officials some breathing room this year by allowing ballots postmarked close to or on Election Day to be counted, but Assembly Republicans blocked the proposal.
With a new Democratic supermajority in the Legislature next year, however, it'll be easier to change election laws, and Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is determined to put postmark changes on the to-do list.
"If we're going to encourage voting by mail, which we ought to do, then we need to make sure that people who got their ballots in on time, which is Election Day, that their votes actually count," said Steinberg.
"As long as we have this vote-by-mail system, which half the voters are participating in, we need to make it a more forgiving process," said Kim Alexander.
With some races so tight this year, late ballots could have made a difference.