Last-minute tips for California voters

By Kim Alexander,
March 4, 2024

Hi Folks,

Tomorrow is "Super Tuesday" when more than a dozen states, including California, will hold Primary elections. A few million Californians have already voted, and a few million more will turn in ballots tomorrow or opt to vote in person at a polling place or vote center.

Here are some quick last-minute tips and pieces of information to help you with this election.

  • In-person voting sites across the state are open from 7 am - 8 pm. Drop boxes are also available in all 58 counties, but some inside government offices or businesses will close at 5 or 6 pm. Check CVF's Directory of County Election Offices which links directly to voting locations and drop boxes for all 58 counties or use this handy tool from the Secretary of State

  • You can return your voted ballot to a drop box or voting site on Election Day and please be sure to sign your ballot envelope! If you're not sure what your voter registration signature looks like, check your state ID or driver's license and make it look like that (chances are good that is the signature your county election office has on file for you). 
  • Nearly 80 percent of the state's voters reside in Voter's Choice Act counties which means their neighborhood polling places have been replaced by county-wide vote centers that are fewer in number but available for more days and countywide to all voters. Use CVF's In-Person Voting Options Map to determine what your county is doing. For voters seeking language assistance or wanting to use an accessible voting machine, in-person voting sites can accommodate these needs. 
  • Every active, registered California voter was mailed a vote-by-mail ballot and you can return it today or tomorrow using a U.S. Postal Service "blue" box, but if you do so please be sure to check the pickup time on the mailbox flap - if you drop it in on Election Day after the mail has already been collected from that box, your ballot will be postmarked 3/6 and rejected as too late (over 57,000 ballots were rejected for this reason in Nov. 2022!). 
  • If you didn't receive a ballot or other election materials in the mail, you are likely not registered to vote at your current address. Check your registration status online and if you want to vote you can complete a conditional registration form at a voting site and complete a ballot as well. After the election, once election staff determine you didn't vote elsewhere they will count your ballot. 

  • Of course, before you complete your ballot and sign the envelope, you'll need to figure out how you want to vote. In addition to using CVF's California Online Voter Guide as a starting point (now in its 30th year!) I also strongly recommend the new tool from the League of Women Voters of California (replacing the prior "Voter's Edge" tool) and Ballotpedia's Sample Ballot lookup tool - both of these nonpartisan sites will help you drill down into all the contests on your ballot, get to know more about candidates and measures and make informed choices. Other great resources to turn to are CalMatters' Voter Guide and KQED's California Voter Guide. If you get stuck remember it's not a test, just skip a contest you are uncertain about and go to the next one.
  • Can't find your ballot? Want a cross-over ballot for the Presidential election but didn't request one in time? You can still vote on March 5th. Contact your county election office or go to a voting site to get assistance. Depending on what the issue is, you may have to vote a provisional ballot. Voters who want a different ballot or prefer to vote in person are advised to bring the ballot they were issued to a voting site and turn it in so that you can vote a regular, not provisional ballot. If you are in a Voter's Choice Act county, the election staff can cancel the ballot previously issued to you on the spot and provide you with a new ballot to vote. 
  • Please be nice to election staff. It has been a difficult few years for everyone working in elections. Believe me, no one is doing this work for the glory or the money. They do it because they believe voting matters. A simple thank you and a smile will go a long way to help the frontline workers of the American democratic process get through a challenging day. 


  • When it comes to finding out the election results, patience is a virtue. We know from the past few elections when every voter was mailed a ballot (Nov. 2020, Recall 2021, Primary 2022 and General 2022) that all those millions of ballots being returned on Election Day will not be processed until after Election Day. In fact, we won't even know how many ballots were cast until at least March 7, when counties report their Unprocessed Ballot numbers to the Secretary of State. Every ballot envelope signature must be verified before they are opened and ballots extracted. Some ballots get damaged or voters make a mistake and cross out a choice, which requires teams of election workers to remake the ballot so it can be scanned. It is incredibly labor intensive and time-consuming. 
  • What will be available to see on Election Night, starting after 8 pm Tuesday, March 5th are the early-arriving vote-by-mail ballots (likely around 3 million) which are pre-processed before the election and tabulated as soon as the polls close. The next batch of ballots will be those cast at voting sites before or on Election Day by Californians voting in person. In the past four statewide elections when voters were automatically mailed ballots, in-person voting has accounted for between 9 to 13 percent of all the ballots cast. Find election returns on the Secretary of State's web site here
  • It will take days, perhaps weeks to determine the final results in close contests. In November 2022 CVF set up a Close Races Tracking Sheet to monitor the legislative and congressional races still undecided a week after Election Day. Some of those contests took the entire 30-day certification period to determine the winner. Expect the national news outlets to start making fun of California during Super Tuesday coverage (and remember this long vote count is the result of laws designed to make voting more accessible and convenient for Californians). 

We'll be doing this again in the Fall when the political parties' presidential nominees and the top two vote getters in other contests appear on our General Election ballots. And you can count on CVF to continue providing reliable, nonpartisan election information through our web site, the news media, social media and this newsletter to help you make informed, confident choices. 

-- Kim Alexander, President & Founder
California Voter Foundation

About the California Voter Foundation

The California Voter Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working through research, oversight, outreach and demonstration projects to improve the election process so that it better serves the needs and interests of voters. CVF-News is a free, electronic newsletter featuring news and updates about the California Voter Foundation's projects and activities.

Support CVF's work with a tax-deductible contribution!