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Voting FAQ

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.

Tip: place the curser over the topic to see links to the questions featured in that section.


Vote by Mail Voting (formerly known as “Absentee” Voting)

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 request a Vote by Mail 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 have 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 a polling place voter, contact your county election office or complete and submit a new voter registration application and select "no" when asked if you want to be a permanent vote-by-mail voter. Or, if completing a paper application, leave the box indicating you want a ballot mailed to you for each election blank.

A Vote by Mail ballot request form can be found in the "Sample Ballot" booklet 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.

A Vote by Mail ballot must be postmarked by Election Day and received by your county election office within 3 days after the election to be counted. You can mail in your ballot, return it in person at any polling place in your own county by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or to your county election office (most offer exterior drop boxes).

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 voting, please visit the Secretary of State's web site.

Will my vote by mail ballot be counted?

On average, 1-3 percent 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.

All votes 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 may take a little longer to incorporate all of the vote-by-mail votes into the final election results, but they are all counted.


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Election Day Voting

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 for a directory of web links and phone numbers voters can use to locate local polliing places.

What time do the polls open and close?

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

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 mayalso 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?

Maybe. You are required to be registered to vote at your current address, and 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, you should call 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). 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. Some counties may allow voters who have moved but did not reregister at their new address 15 days prior to the election to come into the county election office, re-register and vote at the counter. Contact the election office in your new county to find out your options.

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 Election Fraud Complaint Unit, or contact or your county election office.

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Political Districts

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 Redistricting Reform page provides additional information about this important change.

Political Party Affiliation

Do I have to join a political party?

On the voter registration form, you will be asked if you want to "disclose 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 disclose 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 that 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 voters (now called "No Party Preference" voters) may have the option of voting in the Presidential primaries of political parties that allow independents to participate; whether parties allow this can vary from election to election, but generally the Democratic Party allows independents to vote in its presidential primaries and the Republican Party does not.

Check CVF's current election information, consult your sample ballot, or contact your county election office for a list of parties that will allow independent voters to participate in upcoming 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.

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.

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Registering to Vote

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 reregister. 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

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 registraiton 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. Under a law enacted in 2009, 17 year olds can pre-register to vote even if they will not by 18 by the next election. 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 reregister at least 29 days prior to the election, you will receive a Sample Ballot in the mail from your county election office; if you register between 29 and 15 days prior to the election, you will receive a Sample Ballot only if the county has time to process your registration before mailing the Sample Ballots. Extra Sample Ballots will be 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.

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 "Sample Ballot" from their county election office. Registered voters 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.

Can I register to vote over the Internet?

Yes. California implemented paperless online voter registration in September 2012. Visit to learn more or use the system.

Some non-governmental web sites also offer online registration tools - if you choose this option, CVF recommends that you carefully read the site's privacy policy, so that you are aware of whether the owners of the site intend to use your personal information for purposes other than to register you to vote.

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.)

There is a stub on the bottom of the paper form that serves as a receipt. You should hold onto this stub until you receive confirmation that you have been registered. The stub has a number on it that matches a number on your form, and can be used to track a lost or misplaced registration application.

If I register to vote, will I be called for jury duty?

Juries 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.

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Voting Equipment

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 voting technology section of CVF's web site.

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Voting for Candidates and Measures

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 valid. Many voters routinely skip contests when they are uncertain of how to vote.

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This page was first published on August 6, 1996 | Last updated on November 2, 2016
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