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.

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

How do I vote by mail?

In California, county election offices must mail every registered voter a ballot starting no later than 29 days before an election; counties can choose to mail ballots sooner if they wish to do so. Any registered voter may vote using a vote-by-mail ballot instead of going to the polls on Election Day.

If you did not receive your vote-by-mail ballot or if you have lost or destroyed your original vote-by-mail ballot, you may apply in writing or contact your county election office for a replacement ballot. Contact your county election office to request a form or apply online using the Secretary of State’s application.  

If you would like to change your ballot language preference or request an accessible vote--by-mai ballot, contact your county election office or, if available, use the form included on the back of your county Voter Information Guide. 

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 seven days after the election to be counted. You can mail in your ballot, return it in person at any drop box or 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 under state law 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 county election 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. To see if your ballot was counted, you can go to the Secretary of State’s “My Voter Status” web page.

Where do I go to vote? How do I find my voting site?

If you do not have your county Voter Information Guide, which lists your voting site, call or visit your county election office web site, many of which provide lookup tools that allow voters to find voting locations. Visit the Secretary of State's web site to find polling places and vote centers.

Do I have to bring an ID when voting in person?

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 may be required to show or provide a copy of a form of identification when voting for the first time, whether by mail or in person. This ID 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 polling places and vote centers open and close?

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.  In addition, vote centers in counties that have adopted the Voter's Choice Act are open an additional 4-10 days before Election Day. 

What do I do if I am going to be out of town on Election Day?

If your plans around Election Day are uncertain, bring your vote-by-mail ballot with you. You can mail it from any post office on Election Day or drop it off at any drop box or voting site in the state and the election officials in that county will return it to your home county for you. You can also contact your county election office if other accommodations are needed.

I've moved since I registered -- can I still vote?

Yes. If your move is permanent, you can update your California residence address by re-registering online or by submitting a paper voter registration application.

You can also send a signed letter to your county elections official, informing them of your move and providing them with your date of birth and current address, even if it is in a different county. If you moved within California and already updated your address at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the U.S. Postal Service, your registration will be automatically updated with your new address.

If you missed the registration deadline (15 days prior to an upcoming election) 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 a vote center if your county provides them. See this page on conditional voter registration from the Secretary of State for more information.

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 voting site, or use the 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 voting site 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 counted once voter eligibility is confirmed by the election office and has verified the voter did not cast another ballot elsewhere in the state).

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 different 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, 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 Notices Regarding Prohibition of Electioneering and Corruption of the Voting Process

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:

  • consult your sample ballot, or contact your county election office (many of their web sites offer district lookup tools)

  • use the State Legisature’s look-up tool (legislative districts only)

  • try Voters Edge from Maplight and the League of Women Voters of California

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 and again drew new lines in 2021. CVF's archived 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 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.

  • 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 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 Californians doing business with the DMV are also invited to register or update their registration during their DMV transaction (also known as "Motor Voter"). Californians doing business with other government agencies such as Covered California or social service agencies are also provided the opportunity to register to vote. 

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".  Be sure to sign and date your paper form.  

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 undocumented California residents are not eligible to register or vote. Californians with a criminal history are eligible to register and vote under certain conditions - visit the Secretary of State's Voting Rights - Persons with a Criminal History page to learn more about eligibility.

What is the deadline for registering to vote?

California's voter registration deadline is the 15th day before an upcoming election. 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. 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 voting sites. 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 will receive a postcard from your county election office confirming 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. All registered 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 to register for the first time or to update your registration.

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 or vote-by-mail ballot signature.) 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.

  • 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 Election Security section of CVF's web site.

  • 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 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