Voting by Mail? Avoid These Common Pitfalls to Ensure Your Vote Counts

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.

Voting by Mail? Avoid These Common Pitfalls to Ensure Your Vote Counts

Mail-in voting in Los Angeles County is a low-tech election experience that requires you to hunt down a blue or black pen. But it isn't without its pitfalls.

In L.A. County, roughly 17,743 vote-by-mail ballots for the March 2020 primary were rejected — equating to roughly 1.5% of all ballots mailed in, according to a recent report by the California Voter Foundation analyzing data from the Secretary of State.

"While vote-by-mail balloting has advantages, especially during a pandemic, it also shifts the responsibility for correctly casting a ballot from poll workers to voters," the report found.

The foundation found that young voters, those between the ages of 18 and 24, were the smallest voting group to vote by mail but the largest group to have their ballots rejected, according to an examination of 2018 data from three Northern California counties.

And, due to the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election is the first time in California history that voters in all counties will receive a mail-in ballot.

So, with all the ways things can go wrong and three weeks left until the election, dot.LA pulled together advice from voting experts on some ways to make sure they go right.

Make sure you sign the ballot envelope: The signature needs to match the one you provided when you first registered to vote.In March, 2,756 ballots without a voter signature while 267 ballots had signatures that didn't match the one on record. If you registered to vote through the DMV then you can look at your driver's license signature to refresh your memory. If your signature on file doesn't match what you send in, election officials will notify you by mail and ask you to complete and return a signature verification statement. If you forgot to sign your ballot, officials will contact you for an unsigned ballot statement.

Sign up to track your ballot: If there is any problem with your ballot, this should help you to know about it faster. You can sign up here.

Make sure to put your ballot in the return envelope that you've signed before mailing it: It sounds like a given, but 458 mail-in ballots mailed in to election officials had no ballots in the envelope in March. Also, make sure you put only one ballot in an envelope, 70 were rejected for having multiple ballots returned in the same envelope.

Mail your ballot no later than Election Day: It must be postmarked by Election Day to count and be received by election officials no more than 17 days after the election. In March 2020, 13,198 ballots in L.A. County were rejected for not being received on time, by far the largest reason ballots sent in by mail were rejected.

If you make a mistake, read this column: I learned this the hard way, so you don't have to.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation, noted that even if you do make an error on your ballot or use a pink-colored pen or a pencil, election workers spend a good amount of time duplicating ballots by hand if the machine can't read it because you spilled coffee on it, it's torn or you use a light colored pen instead of a dark blue or black one.

One last note, for voters worried about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service amid ongoing financial issues. You can drop off your ballot at more than 400 secure ballot drop boxes throughout L.A. County, just make sure it's an official box by looking it up here. Mail-in ballots can also be dropped off at any voting center in the county.

The Voting Way - CVF 2020 Election Song -

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.