California “lost” over 10 million mail-in ballots in 2022.
Over 10 million people who were sent mail-in ballots (as part of California’s program to mail a mail-in ballot to every registered voter) did not use them to vote in the 2022 election. That doesn’t mean they’re missing.
On January 18, 2023, several conservative news outlets, including Breitbart News published claims that there were 10.8 million “unrecorded” mail-in ballots in the 2022 California election. PJ Media, a frequent proponent of exaggerated claims about the alleged dangers of voting by mail, labeled those ballots as “lost.” their headline.
Each of these reports repeated the same January 2023 report published by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). PILF, whose chairman is Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who was present when former President Trump called the Georgia Secretary of State to “Find“ more votes for Trump after his defeat in the 2020 election, has a well-documented track record of abusing or misinterpreting data to make false points about mail-in ballots or non-citizen voting in American elections.
Snopes exposed PILF and their openly malicious practices in an October 2020 investigation.
PILF’s claim regarding the 2022 California election and 10.8 million “unrecorded” ballots relies on the characterization of ballots sent to registered voters who ended up not voting as missing . As PILF’s report claims, “More than 10 million ballots were outstanding, meaning election officials don’t know what happened to them.”
Per Publicas country of choice addressed this mischaracterization in a February 2020 post:
“Election officials ‘know’ what happened to those ballots,” said Paul Gronke, a Reed College professor and director of the Early Voting Information Center, a research group based there. “They were obtained from eligible citizens and were left unfilled. Where are they now? Most likely in landfills,” Gronke said via email.
As Snopes reported in 2020, when PILF mischaracterized similar California dates, these allegedly disregarded ballots include ones that simply weren’t returned. “Declaring such ballots ‘missing,'” Snopes wrote at the time, “is akin to declaring ‘missing’ all the millions of Americans who don’t bother to turn up at every polling station.” However, as countless PILF press releases attest, this is one of PILF’s favorite tactics.
The current argument of PILF is identical. The number 10.8 million results from the income total number mailed ballots (which are mailed to every registered voter in California) and subtracting rejected votes as well as votes poured personally. Sure, PILF admitted, “It’s fair to assume that the bulk of this was ignored by the intended recipients or ultimately discarded. But,” PILF claimed vaguely, “we can only guess what happened.”
For some reason, PILF has chosen to assume that absentee ballots (which are mailed to every registered voter in California) that are not used in the election is tantamount to election officials “not knowing what happened to millions of ballots.” Such an assumption mischaracterized actual data and presented as fact by a legal group that has repeatedly advanced the same malicious argument in the past. Since these ballots are not “missing” or “lost,” the claim is false.
Binder, John. “California: 10.8 million mail-in ballots ‘disregarded’ in 2022 election.” Breitbart, 01/18/2023,
California Secretary of State. November 8, 2022, parliamentary elections contested/rejected.
—. NOVEMBER 8, 2022, GENERAL ELECTIONS VOTER PARTICIPATION STATISTICS BY COUNTY.
LeTourneau, Nancy. “Trump’s Enablers Contribute to His Lies About Vote-by-Mail.” Washington Monthly, April 24, 2020,
Public Interest Legal Fund. California rejected 226,000 mail-in ballots in the 2022 election.
Taft, Victoria. “California’s Disastrous Universal Postal Vote Lost 10 MILLION Ballots in 2022!” Pjmedia.Com, Accessed 20 January 2023.
Willis, Derek. “A conservative rights group significantly miscalculated data in a report on absentee ballots.” ProPublica, accessed 20 January 2023.
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/pilf-california-mail-in-ballots-2022/ Did 10 million mail-in ballots “lost” in California during the 2022 midterms?