California Voter Foundation
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The 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history and CVF played an important role in making that happen.

Back in 2001, when CVF first began pushing for paper ballots, we were told it was "too late" to change the direction elections were headed in, replacing punch cards with paperless electronic voting machines.

CVF helped turn the trend around in California and then beyond, working with others to develop a nationwide network of advocates, election officials, lawyers, and computer scientists committed to securing the vote in the United States. By 2020, the U.S. held what was widely considered by experts to be the most secure election in the nation's history, with 95 percent of ballots cast on paper, providing the ability to count and recount votes and publicly verify the accuracy of election outcomes.

Despite this achievement, many believe the lie that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen". In light of this disinformation, CVF's work advancing election security and voter confidence is more important ever. Unfortunately, that work now also involves protecting the physical security of election officials and their staff who continue to be harassed and threatened by members of the public months after the election.

CVF has teamed up with UC Berkeley to document threats made against election officials, the impact of these threats, and to recommend and implement reforms to protect and support those responsible for administering our elections. CVF also provides public oversight of California's voting system testing and certification process and works with Sacramento County's Registrar of Voters to enhance the security and transparency of the county's voting process.
Program Successes
- In 2019 and 2020, CVF worked with voter advocates and election officials to enact legislation and regulations enabling California counties to pilot new post-election audit methods to give counties additional tools they can use to verify the accuracy of election results.
- In 2020, all California counties had in place updated voting equipment that complies with California's 2015 California Voting System Standards as required by the Secretary of State.
- CVF led the effort in California to ban paperless electronic voting and require that only voting systems that utilize paper ballots or produce voter-verified paper records are used in California.
- CVF's involvement in voting security includes participation in the Election Verification Network, a nationwide collaboration of voting rights advocates, computer scientists, election officials, and attorneys committed to ensuring US voting systems are secure and produce results that are verifiable. CVF's involvement in this network has helped lead California to be a role model for voting security, thus influencing other states' actions to also make their systems more secure.
Securing the vote and providing voters with robust voting options costs money. Unfortunately, elections as a government service are chronically underfunded. The burden of paying for election administration falls to county governments. While the state and federal government at times step in to assist with equipment upgrades and provided additional funding in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is no ongoing, consistent funding stream from the state or federal governments to help pay for the cost of putting on state and federal elections.

CVF began shining a light on the chronic underfunding of elections in 2013, and the resulting inequality in voter access this lack of funding creates. Well-resourced counties are able to provide voters with services like early voting and access to secure vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes while counties lacking in funding do not provide these extra conveniences.

Creating more equity in elections can be achieved if the state provides local funding to ensure that all Californians, regardless of where they live, have consistent access to voter services and conveniences. Providing consistent funding for election administration will also help local election officials feel supported and more secure.
Program Successes
- California's 2020-21 budget included an additional $35 million for the Secretary of State to conduct a statewide voter education campaign to help Californians vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
- California's 2019-20 budget included an additional $87 million to help counties update voting equipment.
- California's 2018-19 state budget included $134 million for counties to help them upgrade their voting systems and make them more secure.
- CVF worked with numerous stakeholders to develop the Election Funding and Governance Proposal, providing a roadmap for a new funding approach to replace the outdated state mandate reimbursement process with a modernized county block grant approach, at
Since 2014, CVF has been working on reforms to improve California's vote-by-mail process. While voting by mail is a popular option, it is not without its problems. In recent years, CVF has worked to address the growing problem of vote-by-mail ballot rejection, primarily due to lateness and issues with voters' signatures, and reduce this form of voter disenfranchisement.

In the November 2018 election, nearly 85,000 Californians' ballots were rejected, equal to 1 percent of all mail ballots cast. The number of ballots rejected in March 2020 rose to over 100,000, or 1.4.%.

In 2020, CVF published a report examining mail ballot rejection in three counties -- Sacramento, Santa Clara, and San Mateo, online at The report found that over the past decade, on average California has rejected 1.7 percent of mail ballots cast.

CVF shared key findings with elections officials, such as the discovery that most ballots rejected in Sacramento for being "too late" were rejected because they were postmarked too late, not because they arrived too late. CVF developed and shared social media graphics to give voters tips to follow to successfully cast vote-by-mail ballots, and gave dozens of interviews sharing these tips throughout 2020.

In November 2020, with a record voter turnout of close to 18 million and 87% of ballots cast by mail, California's ballot rejection rate plummeted to 0.6 percent, a record low. Sacramento County's rejection rate also declined dramatically, from 1.2 percent in March 2020 to 0.26% in November.

While this is a record low rate, there were still 86,401 Californians whose ballots were rejected. CVF's study found that young and first-time voters were more likely to have their ballots rejected than older and experienced voters, pointing to the need for continuing outreach and education to reduce ballot rejection. CVF also supports requiring all counties to provide at least one secure, official, external 24-hour drop box voters can use to safely return voted ballots.

Program Successes
- In 2020, CVF published a detailed report analyzing rejected vote-by-mail ballots and recommending reforms to reduce rejected ballots.
- In 2020, CVF worked with other voter advocacy groups to advocate for strong regulations implemented by the Secretary of State to establish ballot processing and signature verification policies statewide to protect voters and ensure vote-by-mail ballots are handled similarly across all 58 counties.
- In 2019, CVF supported SB 523 which was enacted into law and requires all California counties to conduct outreach to voters who forget to sign their mail ballot envelope and provide them an opportunity to submit a signature so their ballot can be counted instead of rejected.
- In 2018, CVF supported two bills that were enacted to reform and improve California's vote-by-mail system. SB 759 requires all California counties to notify voters with mismatched signatures and provide them a chance to submit a valid vote-by-mail signature. AB 216 requires all counties to provide voters with postage-paid vote-by-mail return envelopes.
Since 2017, CVF has worked closely with the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters' office and other Sacramento-based advocacy groups to help implement a new voting model. Called the Voters Choice Act, this new voting model requires the county to mail ever registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot; local polling places are eliminated and replaced with county-wide vote centers open to all voters over multiple days; voters now also have access to numerous drop boxes where they can return their voted ballots. These changes are significant and require continued public education. CVF actively participates in the county's Voter Education and Outreach Community Advisory Committee, providing input and guidance along with other advocates to the county elections office as they prepare for upcoming elections.
Program Successes
- CVF successfully advocated for utilizing ballot drop box locations that provide extended hours of access; in 2020 all Raley's/Bel-Air stores became ballot drop box locations. The county also implemented two new 24-hour external drop box sites in 2020.
- CVF successfully advocated for the county include "I Voted" stickers in vote-by-mail ballot envelope packets so that voters who vote by mail will be able to wear an "I Voted" sticker.
- CVF worked with the elections office and other advocates to redesign Sacramento's vote-by-mail ballot return envelope to improve the design and directions to help ensure voters sign and date the envelope so their ballots will be counted.
- Thanks in part to CVF's advocacy work, Sacramento County implemented outreach efforts to voters with problem signatures on vote-by-mail ballots before being required by law to do so. These outreach efforts resulted in hundreds of voters responding and providing a valid signature, so their ballots were counted instead of rejected.