For the first time, Californians can track their mail-in ballots from the point they’re printed to the moment they’re accepted by their county elections office.

Ballot tracking, now available in parts or all of a dozen states, has become a particularly useful option this year, when many voters are anxious about election security. 

As of October 22, 2.7 million Californians — about 12% of the electorate — had signed up for mail-in ballot tracking with BallotTrax, a free service whose website spells out its security measures with all the gravitas of a nuclear code. Three states have higher participation rates so far — Oregon (16%), North Carolina (19%) and Colorado (43%).

Californians have been voting by mail in record numbers at this stage in the election cycle. But thousands of ballots might not be counted for various reasons, from voters using red ink to fill out their ballot to missing the mail-in date. 

One of the likeliest ways for a ballot to get rejected is for the voter’s signature not to match their previous voter registration forms or to be missing from the return envelope. 

When signing your ballot, make sure you sign it as you would anything else, Deva Marie Proto, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters, advised. For example, if you don’t normally include your middle initial in your signature, don’t include it when you sign your ballot. A different slant, tighter spacing or new loops in letters can disqualify a ballot.

“In terms of what we match it to, we use the most recent voter registration,” Proto said. “And then we also have all the past registrations and all the previous vote-by-mail signatures. If somebody updated their registration through the DMV, perhaps we got that signature. So it really depends on each individual voter, the variety and number of signatures that we have for them.”

So far, Proto said, about 800 ballots in her county have been marked as having signature problems. That comes out to about 1.2% of all ballots cast. 

However, voters in this category still have a chance to get their vote counted. 

“We will mail everyone a letter that will let them know the instructions on how to correct that signature and when they have to get it in,” Proto said. “If people are signed up for BallotTrax, it will send them a notification as well that there is an issue and they can contact us.” 

At that point, voters must sign their name again to verify they’re legitimate. 

Elena Neale-Sacks is a reporter at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Votebeat is a national media collaboration about the administration and integrity of, and issues regarding, the unprecedented 2020 election. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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Elena Neale-Sacks

Elena is a reporter at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.