How to vote in California

Election Day is November 3.

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I Voted sticker A voter registration form An envelope for a mail-in ballot
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The general election is approaching fast, with presidential, congressional, state legislative and local races on the Nov. 3 ballot. This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom is encouraging voters to vote by mail in order to protect them from the coronavirus. Everyone will get a mail-in ballot, but if you prefer to vote in person, you still can.

Here’s everything you need to know to make sure your vote is counted.

Register to vote by Oct. 19

The California secretary of state’s website has a few handy tools to make sure you’re ready to vote.

To register online, visit RegisterToVote.ca.gov. If you’re not sure if you’re registered — or if you’d like to change your political party preference — you can visit California's My Voter Status website.

A laptop

If you won’t have access to the internet, you can also register using a paper voter registration application, available at your local county elections office, library, Department of Motor Vehicles office or U.S. post office.

To register to vote in California, you must be 18 years or older on election day, a U.S. citizen and a state resident. You cannot be in state or federal prison, on parole for a felony conviction or deemed mentally incompetent by a judge.

What if...

You miss the deadline?

If you miss the deadline to register or update your voter registration, you can still register to vote through election day at your county elections office, neighborhood polling place or community vote center. Under this process, known as same-day voter registration or conditional voter registration, your ballot will be processed and counted once county elections officials verify your registration.

You’ve changed your name, political party preference or address?

You will need to re-register to vote.

English is not your primary language?

The secretary of state's website has instructions in many languages to help you register to vote and check your status. If you need to register offline, forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.

Vote by mail by Nov. 3

Everyone eligible to vote can vote by mail in the 2020 general election, and if you’re registered by Oct. 19, you don’t even need to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot.

Because of Newsom’s May executive order, counties are required to start mailing ballots to all registered voters in California by Oct. 5. You’re supposed to receive yours before election day.

An L.A. County ballot drop box
L.A. County ballot drop box

Once you’ve filled out your ballot, you should seal it inside the prepaid postage envelope provided with your ballot, sign your name and write the date in the fields provided on the back. This year, state lawmakers extended the window for mail-in ballots to be received and tallied due to concerns about the coronavirus: It must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by your county elections office by Nov. 20 in order to be counted.

Some advocates even recommend delivering your ballot to your local polling place, vote center, county elections office or ballot drop box, cautioning that one reason votes are often not counted is that they arrive at a local elections office postmarked after election day. If that’s your preference, do so by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. Check with your local county elections office to see when these ballot drop-off locations are available to you, and to confirm their hours of operation.

Alternatively, you can have someone deliver your ballot for you by filling out the authorization section on the outside of your ballot envelope.

What if...

You don’t receive your mail-in ballot, or your original ballot is lost or destroyed?

Contact your county elections official to get another one. Your original ballot will be voided.

You need to register to vote after the Oct. 19 registration deadline?

Follow the same-day voter registration process. Then you’ll be able to request a mail-in ballot by filling out a vote-by-mail application, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. You can also either request one from your county elections office or fill out the application printed on the voter information guide you receive in the mail before you get your ballot. Mail your application directly to your county elections office. Do not mail it to the secretary of state’s office. Your county elections official must receive your vote-by-mail ballot application by Oct. 27 in order to send you your ballot.

You need to change your mailing address temporarily for this election?

Fill out a vote-by-mail ballot application, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. You can also either request one from your county elections office or fill out the application printed on the voter information guide you receive in the mail before you get your ballot. Mail your application directly to your county elections office. Do not mail it to the secretary of state’s office. Your county elections official must receive your vote-by-mail ballot application by Oct. 27 in order to send you your ballot.

You set up mail forwarding through USPS?

Your ballot will not be automatically forwarded to you. Fill out a vote-by-mail ballot application to temporarily change it for this election, or re-register to vote to update your address.

You need to request a mail-in ballot after the Oct. 27 vote-by-mail application deadline?

You can fill out a late vote-by-mail application, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. You or someone representing you will need to submit this application in person to the county elections official, and then they will give you a late vote-by-mail ballot. Once you’ve filled out your ballot and signed the envelope, you or your representative will need to deliver it to your local elections office or to a polling location. You can also authorize someone to pick up and return your late vote-by-mail ballot for you by having them fill out the affidavit included on the late vote-by-mail application.

English is not your primary language?

You can call the secretary of state’s voter hotline, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese, if you have questions about voting. You can also contact your local county elections office to request a facsimile ballot in the language of your choice. You can use that facsimile ballot to help you fill out your vote-by-mail ballot.

Track your ballot

You can track your mail-in ballot online through a state website called BallotTrax. It’ll allow you to sign up to receive updates about your ballot, such as when you can expect it to arrive in the mail, whether it’s been received by the county and whether it’s been counted — or the reason why it wasn’t accepted and further instructions to ensure that it is.

A vote-by-mail ballot

When your mail-in ballot arrives at your county elections office, the signature on your return envelope will be compared to the signature on your voter registration card. If your signatures do not match or if you forgot to sign the back of your envelope, elections officials will notify you by Nov. 25.

Then you’d need to complete and sign a signature verification statement included in your notice and send it to your county elections official to ensure your ballot is counted. You can send it by email, postal mail or fax, or you can return it at the county elections office. It must be received by your county elections office by 5 p.m. on Dec. 1.

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Where to vote in southern California

You can return your mail-in ballot to any drop box or voting center in your home county. The map below shows voting locations in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Search to find centers close to you, or explore the map.

Vote in person through Nov. 3

Starting Oct. 5, you’ll be able to vote in person, too. All counties in California will offer early in-person voting at their county elections office.

After that, beginning Oct. 31, many counties will offer additional early voting opportunities at polling places and vote centers. If you live in a county participating in the California Voter’s Choice Act, you can vote in person at vote centers as early as Oct. 24.

Double-check with your county registrar’s office where to vote before you go. Some counties, like those participating in the California Voter’s Choice Act, will let you vote at any vote center in the county. Some may assign you a specific place to vote, which should be printed on the back of your voter information guide, based on your address. Others are doing a mix of both approaches.

A face mask

Additionally, your usual polling location may no longer exist. Some counties this year have consolidated polling locations in bigger venues to allow for more social distancing.

On Nov. 3, all county elections offices, polling places and vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for in-person voting. As long as you are in line by 8 p.m., you will be allowed to vote.

If you forget to wear a mask, your polling place will have masks available or will arrange for you to use a voting station with additional social distancing measures.

What if...

Your name is not on the official voter registration list when you arrive?

You will be asked to fill out a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted after elections officials confirm that you’re registered to vote and that you did not already vote. You can check the status of your provisional ballot to see whether it was counted, and if not, why.

You have a mail-in ballot but want to vote in person?

State officials advise you to bring your mail-in ballot with you. If you forget it, some counties may have you cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted after elections officials confirm that you’re registered to vote and that you did not already vote. You can check the status of your provisional ballot to see whether it was counted and if not, why.

English is not your primary language?

Your county elections office, vote center or polling place will offer in-person assistance in different languages, but you should call them to confirm which languages. Before the Oct. 19 registration deadline, the secretary of state’s website can help if you need to register to vote or check your status using a language other than English. If you need to register offline, forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese

How to vote if...

You are displaced by a natural disaster

You can fill out a one-time vote-by-mail application to temporarily list a new address to receive a mail-in ballot. If you have been displaced from your home county, you can vote in person in your current county using same-day voter registration. Under this process, your ballot will be processed and counted once county elections officials verify your voter registration. Check out the California secretary of state’s fact sheet for displaced voters for additional options and resources.

You are in the hospital or care facility or cannot leave home due to a medical emergency

You can authorize someone to go to your local county elections office and pick up a ballot for you. Check out the California secretary of state’s fact sheet for voters with medical emergencies for more instructions to ensure you can vote.

You have a disability

California has several options such as remote accessible vote by bail and curbside voting that you can use to cast your ballot. Check with your county elections office to confirm if these options are available at your polling place or vote center. Visit the California secretary of state’s page for voters with disabilities for additional resources available to you.

You are experiencing homelessness

You can register to vote using the address where you spend most of your time, such as a shelter, or by describing the location where you live by using the nearest cross street. For more details on how to ensure you receive your elections material, including your ballot, elections material and information, check out the California secretary of state’s fact sheet for voters experiencing homelessness.

You have a criminal history

You are entitled to receive a voter registration card as long as you are not in state or federal prison or on parole for a felony conviction. If you are done with your felony parole, your right to vote is restored but you need to re-register to vote. You can use the restore your vote tool to determine your eligibility and visit the California secretary of state’s page for persons with a criminal history for more details on how to cast your ballot.

You are a college student or living abroad

You have the option of registering to vote using your home address or the address you are currently using for school or while you’re living abroad. Visit the California secretary of state’s page for college students and voters living abroad for more details on how to cast your ballot.

You are in the military

You will need to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot, fill it out and return it using the provided military voter return envelope. Visit the California secretary of state’s page for military and overseas voters for detailed instructions.

You need additional assistance

Contact your county elections offices.