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How to Vote in California

By September 23, 2020 September 29th, 2020 No Comments
From the nonstop political emails in your inbox to the inundation of issue ads on Facebook, it’s clear that election season is in full swing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this cycle different than anything in generations.
With each state in charge of its own election laws and pandemic response, it can be confusing to know which new rules apply to you and your ballot. With November 3 just 40 days away, Cerrell wants make sure you’re prepared to cast your vote safely and securely. We’ve combined all the various rules, deadlines, and tips for voting in California into a one-stop Electoral Guide.


In California, the voter registration deadline is October 19, or two weeks before Election Day. While California does allow same-day registration at the polls for voters who miss this deadline, registering early creates an easy and simple voting experience, avoiding extra forms at the polls. Registering in advance ensures your ballot can be counted immediately rather than a provisional ballot that is held until your registration is certified.

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, many states including California are mailing all registered voters a ballot, allowing them to vote from the safety of their own home. These ballots will be sent to the address listed on your voter registration. So even if you are already registered, it’s extremely important to confirm your registration information address before the mailing process begins. Ballots will begin being mailed on October 5, so it’s recommended you complete and/or confirm your registration by the end of September if you would like to receive your ballot at home.

You can register online or check your registration at All you need is: (1) a California Driver’s License or ID Card, (2) the last four digits of your SSN, and (3) your date of birth. The DMV will provide a copy of your signature to complete your registration. If you do not have a California driver license or California identification card, you can still use this form to apply to register to vote. However, you will need to take additional steps to complete your voter registration.


While it may seem like this election revolves around the presidential candidates, your ballot contains many important state and local measures that will help decide the future of your city, county and state for years to come. Make sure to educate yourself on these issues prior to casting your vote by checking out the California Voter Information Guide and your local elections website.

Also, be sure to educate yourself about your rights as a voter. Did you know you have the right to cast your ballot even if polls have technically closed as long as you are in line before 8 p.m.? Or that you are entitled to a new ballot if you make a mistake, regardless of whether it’s an in-person, mail-in or provisional ballot? You also have the right to get help, receive election materials in another language, or ask election officials questions.

Postal Participation

As mentioned above, all registered California voters will receive a ballot in the mail starting on October 5 to keep voters, poll workers, and their families safe from COVID-19. While this is new to many voters, the process is as simple as Fill In, Sign, and Send.

After receiving your ballot, it can be completed similar to a scantron filling in bubbles to indicate your choice. Then, place it in the return envelope (complete with pre-paid postage this year!) and carefully sign the outside of the envelope where instructed. Your signature is compared to the signature on file in your registration, so try to avoid the “grocery store” scribble.

Ballots can then be sent back by mail, but must be postmarked by Election Day and received by November 20. To be confident your vote is counted, you can sign up for California Ballot Trax and follow it from the mail box to your county elections office for counting.

If you’d rather skip the post office, you can also return your ballot to a secure drop box or to polling station up until 8 p.m. on Election Day when polls close. There will be separate lines at polling locations for voters dropping off their ballots to expedite the process, avoid crowding, and ensure social distancing.

In-Person Participation

Despite the home delivery of ballots, voters can still opt to cast their vote in person. Voting stations will offer voter registration services, replacement mail-in ballots, voting machines, and language assistance. To help alleviate crowds on Election Day, many polling places will be open early at least four days prior, starting on Saturday, October 31. You can find your local polling places and the dates they open here.

To keep voters and poll-workers as safe as possible during the pandemic, individuals will be expected to wear a mask, social distance, and sanitize after using high touch areas. In addition to your mask and sanitizer, don’t forget to bring your ID, blank mail-in ballot to exchange (forgetting won’t prevent you from voting, just slows the process) and your own pen to further avoid contact with others.

Life has changed a lot due to COVID-19. From weddings to simply working outside of an office, most of our daily activities have been put on pause for the foreseeable future. However, the democratic process is one thing that COVID can’t postpone. In fact, this election is arguably the largest metaphorical social gathering allowed this year. So, whether you choose to do it by mail or in-person, be sure to cast your ballot and make your voice heard!

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