Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Absentee voters: If you don't do this, your ballot may not count

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Today is the last day in California to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot to participate in next Tuesday's election.

Michael McDonald studies voter behavior at George Mason University in Virginia. He says it’s important to review your ballot before mailing it in to make sure you’ve provided some sort of ID.

“Mail balloting is a more complicated process than voting in person and many people fail to take that step," he says. "Their ballot then only counts provisionally until the voter can provide that identification. Many of those ballots go uncounted in the election because people aren’t aware.”

First-time absentee voters in California must send off ballots with either a valid driver's license number, the final four digits of their social security number, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement or paycheck, according to the California Secretary of State's Office, if they have not previously verified their identities when registering to vote by mail.

From the Secretary of State's Office's website:

"In person" voters must show a "current and valid photo identification" or "a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter."

"Absentee voters" must submit with their ballot one of the documents listed above.

... The requirement only applies to voters who have never voted in the county in a federal election. Persons who were already registered as of January 1, 2003, or who change address within the county and re-register, are not required to show ID to vote.

Second, voters who do not register to vote "by mail" are not required to show ID to vote.

Third, Section 303(b)(3) states that if the voter provides his or her driver's license number, or the last 4 digits of his or her social security number, on the form to register to vote, and the elections official can verify the number is correct, then the ID requirement does not apply.

McDonald says election officials across the county threw out 400,000 absentee ballots during the last Presidential election because voters didn’t follow instructions.

Correction: An earlier version of this story didn't note that the identification requirements only applied to absentee voters voting in a federal election for the first time.

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