A voter deposits a mail-in ballot at a Sacramento County vote center in the primary election March 3. All registered California voters will receive a paper ballot in the mail. The ballot may be returned by mail or in person, but it must be signed and dated on the outside of the envelope. (Photos by Joan Cusick)

How to Cast Your Ballot

California offers options to vote early, either by mail or in person

Back Photo gallery Sep 11, 2020 By Joan Cusick

The COVID-19 pandemic will change the way some Californians vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election, with expanded access to vote-by-mail, extended hours at many polling places, ballot tracking with advance sign-up and on-site safety precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

“Due to COVID-19, there may be fewer in-person voting locations in your county than normal,” advises Secretary of State Alex Padilla in the Official Voter Information Guide. “You can help your community by voting early this year, either by mail or in person.”

Nichole Becker Reefe and her son, Dylan Reefe, display their “I Voted” stickers from the pre-pandemic primary election March 3. In Sacramento County, voters may cast ballots at any authorized vote center — not just at their local precinct.

Californians can register to vote until Oct. 19. After that, new voters have to register and cast ballots in person.

Counties across the state will begin mailing ballots to every registered California voter Oct. 5. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. All voters in line by 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Other deadlines and procedures vary from county to county. The 2016 California Voter’s Choice Act, which is in effect in 15 counties, expands early voting and allows voters to cast a ballot at any vote center in the county — not just their local precinct. In Sacramento County, for example, some vote centers open Oct. 24, with additional polling places available from Oct. 29 through the Nov. 3 election. (For links to individual counties, visit the California Secretary of State website.)

Charity Bermudez casts her ballot as golden retriever Eve passes the time at a Sacramento County vote center. For the general election, some vote centers will open Oct. 24. Voters can cast ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Nov. 3.

All California voters have the option to vote by mail or in person. To vote by mail, voters must put their completed ballot in the postage-paid return envelope that is provided. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and must be received no later than 17 days after Election Day.

“Be sure to sign and date the outside of your return envelope,” says Elizabeth Leslie of the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, a nonpartisan political organization. “If your signature doesn’t match your voter registration, elections officials are required to notify you, giving you an opportunity to verify your signature and have your vote counted. But if you don’t sign and date the outside of your return envelope, your ballot won’t be counted.”

Poll worker Judy Kreizenbeck (left) helps Renae Dunn file her ballot at the Sierra 2 vote center March 3. Elections officials suggest early voting in the general election to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing.

Voters may also deposit their completed ballots at any polling place or ballot drop box location. For those who prefer to vote in person, Leslie suggests going to a vote center before Election Day. “It will be less crowded and easier to maintain social distance,” she says.

To vote in person, voters should take the ballot they received in the mail. They may surrender that ballot and vote with a regular ballot if they choose. Voters who did not receive a ballot in the mail may request one at the polling place.

For additional election information, sos.ca.gov/elections or your county elections office.

Sign up at california.ballottrax.net/voter/ to receive automatic updates when your ballot is mailed, received and counted.

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A Day in the Life of a Neighborhood Precinct

Logan Leonhardt walked up to the check-in table at Poll A in Sierra 2 Center and the 4-year-old turned in his purple “ballot” to neighbor and poll worker Eric Johnson. His mother, Krystin, quickly snapped a photo of Logan’s first unofficial vote, which remained on display for the rest of the day.

Nov 9, 2016 Joan Cusick