Decision 2020

FAQ: What to Know About Vote-by-Mail Ballots in California

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered county elections officials to send mail-in ballots to all active registered voters in California. Here's what to know.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in May that mandated vote-by-mail ballots be sent to all active registered California voters due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The sweeping order was a first, but voting by mail is nothing new to many Californians.

More than 72 percent of California voters cast vote-by-mail ballots in the March 3 primary election, which was before the state's first-in-the-nation stay-home order. In the 2016 General Election, 69 percent of California voters cast mail-in ballots, a 12-percentage point increase from the 2010 election.

So, if you're new to mail-in ballots, here's what to know about the vote-by-mail process.

Why am I getting a mail-in ballot this year?

Even active registered votes who never applied to get a mail-in ballot will receive one this year under an executive order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Elections officials are encouraging people to vote by mail to avoid gathering in-person at polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

When will I get my mail-in ballot?

County elections officials have until Oct. 5 to send mail-in ballots to active registered California voters, so expect to see it soon if you haven’t already received it.

What if I don’t receive a ballot? 

If you didn't receive you mail-in ballot and you'd like one mailed to you, you'll need to request one from your county elections office. Oct. 27 is the last day to request a mail-in ballot be mailed to you. You can also sign up for this ballot tracking tool to get updates on the whereabouts of your ballot.

How many people vote by mail?

Californians have largely embraced voting by mail. In the March primary, held before statewide stay-home orders were issued, more than 72 percent of ballots cast in the nation's most populous state were mail-in ballots. 

Can I still vote in-person?

Yes. County elections officials have released vote center locations and lists of when early voting locations will open. You can either drop off your ballot at a polling place, surrender your mail-in ballot and vote in-person, or bring your mail-in ballot to a secure dropbox.

How do I return my ballot?

Your ballot comes with instructions for mailing it back to your county elections office. Ballots that are mailed must be postmarked on or before Election Day on Nov. 3. They must be received by the county no later than 17 days after Election Day.

Here's a brief ballot checklist.

  • Place your completed ballot card in the official return envelope.
  • Seal the return envelope.
  • Sign and date the back of the envelope.
  • No postage is necessary.

Can I just bring it somewhere?

Yes. You can return a mail-in ballot by bringing it to a vote center or county elections office. Just remember, you need to return it no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Can I use a ballot dropbox?

Counties offer secure dropboxes where you can return your completed ballot. In LA County, for example, there will be more than 400 ballot dropboxes available Oct. 5 through Election Day. They are bolted into cement or chained in place. Ballots are picked up regularly by election workers. 

Can someone else return my ballot?

You can authorize another person to return your ballot. Fill out the authorization section on the outside of the ballot envelope. 

What happens after I mail my ballot?

County elections officials will review you ballot, checking your signature on the return envelope with what’s on your voter registration card. The ballot is then separated from the envelope and tallied. All valid mail-in ballots are counted.

What happens if my signatures don't match?

It's ok, signatures tend to change somewhat over the years. Elections officials will notify you by mail and ask you to fill out a signature verification statement if your signature doesn't match what's on record.

What if I forgot to sign the envelope?

Again, there's a solution. If you returned you ballot, but forgot to sign the envelope, the county will mail an Unsigned Ballot Statement requesting your signature. Voters have up to 28 days after Election Day to return the document.

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