We hope you will find answers to your voting-related questions in the Frequently Asked Questions below. If not, please contact us and we'll do our best to answer your question as quickly as possible.
How do I vote by mail?
If you are temporarily living away from home, find it difficult to get to your polling place on Election Day, or simply prefer to vote from home, you can apply for a "Vote by Mail" ballot. You may sign up as a Vote-by-Mail voter at any time, but not fewer than 7 days in advance of an upcoming election.
California law allows any voter to register as a permanent a Vote-by-Mail voter for any reason. If you choose to be a permanent a Vote-by-Mail voter, you will not need to request a Vote-by-Mail ballot for each election; instead, you will automatically receive a ballot in the mail for each election.
If you want to switch back to being a polling place voter, ask your county election office to do so or complete and submit a new voter registration application and answer "no" when asked if you want to get your ballot by mail before each election.
A Vote-by-Mail ballot request form can be found in the County Voter Information Guide booklet (previously called the "Sample Ballot") you receive from your county election office. Some political campaigns mail request forms to voters as well. Contact your county election office to request a form or to apply online, or use the Secretary of State's application.
Under state law, voters must be provided a postage-paid mail ballot return envelope. Vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by your county election office within 3 business days after the election to be counted. You can mail in your ballot, return it in person at any voting site in your county by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or to your county election office (most offer exterior drop boxes). If you are not in your home county on Election Day but have your ballot with you, you can fill it out, sign and date the envelope and return your voted ballot to any voting location or election office in the state which is required to return it to your home county on your behalf.
Many counties provide online tools that allow voters to check the status of a vote by mail ballot request and returned ballot - check your county web site for more details.
For more information about voting by mail, please visit the Secretary of State's web site.
To locate early voting and ballot drop-off locations statewide, visit the Secretary of State's web site.
Will my vote by mail ballot be counted?
On average, a small percentage of mail ballots cast by California voters do not get counted. The top reasons why mail ballots are rejected are because they arrive too late, or the voter forgot to sign the mail ballot envelope, or the signature on the envelope did not sufficiently match the voter's signature on file. If you vote by mail be sure to return your ballot on time, and to sign the envelope the same way you registered to vote. If you registered online, check your driver's license signature as this is the one that will be used for verification. Contact your local elections office to verify your ballot was counted and to provide a valid signature if needed.
All ballots legally cast in California are counted, regardless of whether they were cast at the polling place or submitted through the vote-by-mail process. It typically takes longer to incorporate all of the vote-by-mail votes into the final election results, but all valid ballots that are cast are counted.
Where do I go to vote? How do I find my polling place?
If you do not have your county "Sample Ballot", which lists your polling place, you can call your county election office, or visit your county's election web site, many of which provide lookup tools that allow voters to find their polling places. Visit the Secretary of State's web site to find polliing places and vote centers.
Do I have to bring an ID to the polling place?
Most California voters do not have to show an ID when you vote - but you do have to sign your name in the roster at your polling place or vote center and do so under penalty of perjury. However, If you are a first-time voter, and registered to vote through the mail, you do have to provide a form of identification - this can be a driver's license or state-issued ID, or a school identification card with your photo, a utility bill, the voter guide your county sent you in the mail, or any other form of government correspondence that shows your name and address. If you vote by mail, you must include a copy of your ID with your voted ballot. This requirement was enacted nationwide under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. See this page from the Secretary of State for more information.
What time do the polls open and close?
What do I do if I am going to be out of town on Election Day?
Contact your county election office to find out how to cast a Vote-by-Mail ballot. If you are unexpectedly out of town or have a last-minute emergency or hospitalization, you can vote early at your county election office. Your county may also be able to issue you a Vote-by-Mail ballot even if the deadline for requesting one has passed.
I've moved since I registered -- can I still vote?
Yes. If you missed the deadline you can complete a conditional voter registration application and vote at your county's election office or at your polling place on Election Day or at vote centers if your county provides them. See this page on conditional voter registration from the Secretary of State for more information.
You must re-register to vote whenever you move. If you have moved within the same county since you last registered, you may still be able to vote. If you have moved within fifteen days of an election (after the registration deadline for that election), you can go to your previous polling place to vote on Election Day, or you can request a Vote-by-Mail ballot.
If you have moved within the same county more than fifteen days prior to an election and have not re-registered by the deadline, contact your county election office to get the location of your new polling place, or use the polling place look-up feature on that office's web site if available or on the Secretary of State's site. You will need to bring with you to the polling place two pieces of identification showing your name and new address (one piece is okay if it is your driver's license showing your new address), where you will then fill out a new voter registration form and cast what is called a "provisional ballot" (provisional ballots are set aside and not counted until voter eligibility can be confirmed by the election office).
The above applies only to voters who have moved within the same county, not those who have moved from one county to another. If you moved to a diifferent county and missed the 15-day registration deadline, you can visit your county election office, complete a conditional voter registration application and cast a conditional ballot that will be counted once the elections office processes your application and verifies you did not vote elsewhere.
Is my employer required to give me time off to vote?
Yes, California law requires that employers give their employees time off to vote in statewide elections if employees do not have time to vote outside of their normal work schedule but voters must ask for it at least two working days in advance. The law provides for a maximum of two hours of paid leave for the purposes of voting. More information is on the Secretary of State's "Time off to vote" web page.
Whom do I contact about voter fraud or other voting concerns?
If you have a concern regarding voter fraud, voter intimidation or any other irregularity involving voter registration or voting, please contact either the Secretary of State's Voting Information Hotline at 1-800-345-VOTE, visit the Secretary of State's Voter Complaint page, or contact your county election office. Several voter advocacy groups offer an "Election Protection" hotline to help voters with problems on Election Day: 1-866-OUR-VOTE. If you would like to observe your county's vote counting process, contact your county election office and review the Secretary of State's Election Observations Rights and Responsibilities. See the Secretary of State's web site for a list of election-related criminal activities and punishments.
How do I find out which political districts I live in?
CVF's California Map Series features maps of all California political districts. If you don't know which political districts you reside in or who your representatives are, there are a number of ways to find out:
How often are political districts redrawn?
The boundaries of congressional and legislative political districts are redrawn in a process called redistricting that happens every ten years, following the release of updated U.S. Census figures. Historically, redistricting for U.S. House of Representatives, State Assembly and State Senate districts is conducted in California by the state legislature. In 2011, for the first time a new Citizens Redistricting Commission drew California legislative district lines. CVF's archived Redistricting Reform page provides additional information about this important change.
Do I have to join a political party?
On the voter registration form, you will be asked if you want to choose a political party preference. There are a number of qualified political parties in California. You may choose one of these parties or you may choose to be unaffiliated with any party. You may also select "Other" and designate a political party that is not an official party in California (meaning it has not reached the threshold of required number of party members to be considered an official party).
Voters who wish to register independent of a party must select "No, I do not want to choose a political party preference" when registering to vote. If you select "American Independent Party" you will be registered with a politial party and will not be registered as an indepedent.
Can I vote for a candidate who belongs to a different political party than the one I belong to?
In a General Election you can vote for any candidate of any party regardless of what party you are registered with or if you are registered with no party preference.
California's voters enacted the "Top Two Open Primary" system in June 2010. Under these rules, all voters, whether registered with a party or not, are allowed to vote for any Primary candidate of any party in statewide, congressional and legislative contests. In these contests, the top two vote-getters will proceed to the General Election, even if they are of the same party. Click here for more information from the Secretrary of State.
However, in a Presidential Primary election, voters registered with a political party can only choose among candidates for president who are registered with the same party (the same is true for party central committee elections). Independent, "No Party Preference" voters may have the option of voting in the Presidential primaries of political parties that allow No Party Preference voters to participate; whether parties allow this can vary from election to election, but generally the Democratic Party allows No Party Preference voters to vote in its presidential primaries and the Republican Party does not.
Consult your official voter guide or contact your county election office for a list of parties that will allow No Party Preference voters to participate in upcoming Presidential Primary elections.
How do I change my party affiliation?
You may change your party affiliation at any time by filling out a new registration form. Be sure to re-register at least fifteen days prior to the next election in order for the change to take effect for that election. If you miss this deadline, you can still complete a conditional voter registration application.
How do I start a new political party?
Political organizations can become qualified parties in California either by reaching a certain threshold of registration, or by petition. Detailed information about how to qualify a political party in California is available on the Secretary of State's web site.
How do I register to vote?
First-time voters must register to vote before casting a ballot. Voters who change their name or move must re-register. To register, update your registration name or address, or change your party preference, you need to complete a new voter registration form. Californians can register or update their registration online using their California driver's license or ID number by visiting RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
California's online registration form is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Registration applications submitted through the online system are sent to counties for review and approval before the process is completed.
Voters who do not have a California driver's license or ID card can still use the online system, and will be instructed to print, sign and mail the form once completed online.
Other ways to obtain a voter registration form:
- pick one up in person at a public agency such as the library, DMV, post office, county election office, city clerk, etc.
- call 1-800-345-VOTE to request a form be mailed to you
- call your county election office to request a form be mailed to you
Additionally, many campaigns and political parties send out staff and volunteers to register voters at malls and other public places. You may request a voter registration form from these people too. The law requires them to supply you with a form regardless of which political party you want to register with, so don't be misled by signs that say "Republicans Register Here" or "Democrats Register Here". You can also register to vote when you renew your driver's license with the DMV. The deadline to register to vote is 15 days prior to an election. Your form must be signed, dated and postmarked by that deadline.
Who is eligible to vote?
You must be 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen to vote in California. However, Californians who are age 16 and 17 may pre-register to vote. Legal residents of California who are not U.S. citizens, and illegal California residents are not eligible to register or vote. Convicted felons currently serving a prison term or on parole are not eligible to register or vote (see the ACLU of San Diego's fact sheet for more details).
What is the deadline for registering to vote?
You must register to vote by the 15th day before an election in order to be eligible to vote in that election. If you register or re-register at least 29 days prior to the election, you will receive a County Voter Information Guide in the mail from your county election office; if you register between 29 and 15 days prior to the election, you will receive your county's voter guide only if the county has time to process your registration before mailing the voter guides out. Extra local voter guides are available at all polling places. Your registration form must be signed, dated and postmarked by the registration deadline. If you have questions about the registration deadline, contact your county election office.
California also offers conditional voter registration. Voters who miss the deadline can still register to vote at their county election office or a vote center prior to and on Election Day .
How do I know if I am currently registered to vote?
After you complete your registration form you should receive a postcard from your county election office saying you've been registered. You do not need to bring this card with you when you go to vote. Depending on which county you live in, this post card may be mailed anywhere from two weeks to three months after you submitted your registration form.
All California voters can check their current registration status and address using the Secretary of State's My Voter Status lookup tool. Voters in many counties can also check their registration status online via their county election web site. Visit CVF's Directory of County Election Offices to find links to these lookup tools. For voters living in counties without online registration status lookup tools, contact your county election office during business hours to verify your status.
All registered voters (except for those who register very close to the registration deadline) receive a "County Voter Information Guide" from their county election office. Registered voters' households also receive an official voter information guide from the California Secretary of State. Vote-by-mail voters begin receiving ballots four weeks prior to Election Day. If you do not receive these materials, you are most likely not registered at your current address and should contact your county election office immediately to verify and update your registration record if needed.
Can I register to vote over the Internet?
Yes. California implemented online voter registration in September 2012. Visit RegisterToVote.ca.gov to learn more or use the system.
How do I fill out the registration form?
California's voter registration form asks for basic information, including your name, street address, mailing address (if different), birthdate, the county in which you reside, and your place of birth (U.S. state or foreign country). The form also asks for your California driver's license number, California ID number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you do not have these numbers, leave this field blank and your county will assign a registration number to you. (Note: for the online form a driver's license number or California ID number as well as the last four Social Security number digits are required to complete the transaction online).
Fields such as email address and phone number are optional; if you do not want to receive campaign phone calls and emails you can leave these fields blank (however, providing a phone number will help your county election office contact you if there are any problems with your form.) For information about choosing a political party affiliation, see the section above.
You will also be asked if you have been registered to vote in California before. This information helps county election offices remove your old registration information. If you have forgotten your previous address, or party affiliation, that's okay - just fill out this section of the form to the best of your ability.
Be sure to sign and date your form! County election officials cannot, and will not process registration forms that are not dated and signed (Forms completed online utilize your signature on file with the DMV as your voter registration application signature.).
If I register to vote, will I be called for jury duty?
Jury pools in California are drawn from a variety of public records, including voter registration and DMV records, among others. You can be called to serve on a jury whether or not you are registered to vote.
Can I vote over the Internet?
Although online voting experiments (from county-owned, polling place terminals only) were conducted in some California counties during the November 2000 election, online voting is not approved as an official voting method in California at this time. The debate about voting over the Internet and related security and voter privacy issues, continues; for more information on this topic, visit the Election Security section of CVF's web site.
What if I've voted by mail for a candidate who has since withdrawn from the race?
A candidate's public withdrawal from an election, once his or her name is on the ballot, makes no difference in terms of how votes for that person are counted. If Vote by Mail ballots are cast for such a candidate, they will still be counted like all other votes.
What are the rules for write-in candidates?
Under California's vote-enacted Top Two Open Primary Act, the rules for write-in candidates have changed. See this page from the Secretary of State for more details. In order to be eligible to receive write-in votes and have them actually count, a candidate must file a written statement declaring him or herself to be an official write-in candidate for a particular election.
Write-in votes cast for someone who has not filed as an official write-in candidate will not be counted. If a voter misspells the name of candidate, or omits part of the candidate's name or the office for which the candidate is running, the vote may still count depending upon a number of factors.
What is the percentage of the vote required to pass local and state measures?
All statewide propositions pass or fail on a straight majority vote, regardless of topic or type of ballot measure. At the local level, some measures require a majority vote to pass and others, such as school bond measures, require 55% of the vote in order to pass. (The percentage required to pass local school bonds used to be 66%, but that changed with the passage of statewide Proposition 39 in November 2000.) Local tax increases for a specific use must receive two-thirds of the vote to pass; this threshold was established with the passage of Proposition 218 in November 1996.
Do I have to vote on everything on the ballot or can I skip some contests?
Voting is not a test. You do not have to vote on every contest on the ballot in order for your ballot to be considered valid and counted. Many voters routinely skip contests when they are uncertain of how to vote.
How can I access past editions of the state's Official Voter Information Guide?
Once an election is over, the Secretary of State relocates the Official Voter Information Guide to an archive section of the agency's web site. You can access archived voter guides at http://vigarchive.sos.ca.gov/.