FAQ: Your 2020 Election Questions, Answered

Published Sep 23, 2020

We're here to help you navigate the process of voting under unprecedented circumstances: a global pandemic that's driving a huge expansion of voting by mail.

In fact, California is sending every registered, active voter a ballot for the Nov. 3 General Election. Everything you need to know about voting by mail can be found here.

You can also don a mask and vote in person, if you choose -- county election officials will have COVID-19 safety measures in place at polling places and vote centers around Southern California.

Either way, we're here to help you navigate the changes to make sure your vote counts.

If you prefer getting your information directly from humans, you can watch a replay of our live event below, in which I answered voter questions along with Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, and Justin Levitt, professor of Law at Loyola Marymount Law School and former deputy assistant attorney general overseeing the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

You can also "attend" our Election Countdown, another live virtual event where we're answering your burning questions. RSVP and submit your question here.

We've also answered some frequently asked questions about the process of voting. You can read about those in our written guide below, and we'll be updating the page as we answer more, so check back often.

If you need to contact your local elections official by phone or email, here's a handy list of contact information for county registrars' offices.

And if you have a question that's not being addressed, ask us! You can submit your question at the bottom of this page and our Voter Game Plan team will do our best to get you an answer.

AM I ELIGIBLE TO VOTE?

According to the California Secretary of State, you are eligible if you are:

AM I REGISTERED TO VOTE IN CALIFORNIA?

Check your status or register to vote on the California Secretary of State's website. You can also do this by calling the California Secretary of State Voter Hotline at 1-800-345-VOTE (8683), or by emailing elections@sos.ca.gov.

When you register or check your status, look for these details:

  1. What party you're registered under;
  2. That your mailing address is up to date

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If you need to change your party affiliation, mailing address, or vote-by-mail status, you can do that by re-registering to vote.

Note: You may be registered and not even realize it. Since the New Motor Voter Act launched in 2018, eligible adults who visit the DMV for a new license or other services are automatically registered to vote, unless they opt out.

And since 2017, 16- and 17-year olds have been able to pre-register to vote. Eligible teens who choose this option will have their registration activated when they turn 18. That service is also available on the Secretary of State's website.

WHEN'S THE DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE?

October 19 is the last day to register online for the general election. This is the fastest way to register and update your voter information.

If you miss this deadline, you can still register at any polling place or vote center statewide all the way up to and including Election Day. If you register to vote on the day you vote, you will have to cast a provisional ballot, which means your ballot goes into a pink envelope and your information will need to be verified before your vote is counted.

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CAN I REGISTER TO VOTE IF I'M HOMELESS?

Yes. When you register online to vote you'll see an option to select "I do not have a street address." It will allow you to list your cross streets and county instead of a residential address. Enter the location near where you've been staying. This is needed so that election officials can assign you a precinct.

If you choose this option, you will need to input a mailing address so that you can receive your sample ballot and other voting materials. L.A. County election officials say this can be a P.O. Box, or a mailing address for a family member or friend -- anywhere that you'll be able to get mail.

Call your county elections office with any questions. A full list of California elections offices is available here.

HOW DO I GET A VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOT?

First, check your status -- if you're registered, you should receive a ballot in the mail. If you aren't and would like to be, you can fill out a new online voter registration form.

Next, watch your mailbox. Elections officials will start mailing ballots out on Oct. 5 for the Nov. 3 General Election. Every registered active voter in the state should receive one.

If your ballot doesn't show up by the week of Oct. 12, contact your county registrar.

For more questions about voting by mail, see our supplemental guide here.

WHERE DO I GO TO VOTE IN PERSON?

Health officials are encouraging people to take advantage of mail-in voting to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But if you prefer voting in person, or you need any help with your ballot, you can go to a polling place or vote center in your county with coronavirus safety measures in effect.

One of the big changes with the 2020 elections is the use of larger, consolidated "vote centers" in many counties in place of traditional neighborhood polling places. If you live in Orange or Los Angeles counties, or anywhere else that has adopted the "Voter's Choice Act," you'll vote at one of these spots, which are open up to 10 days before Election Day (though most locations won't open until the Saturday before Election Day, Oct. 31).

At these vote centers, you'll be able to get help in multiple languages, replace a lost or damaged ballot, and register to vote or make same-day changes to your voter registration.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

ORANGE COUNTY

But again, if you can, the recommendation is to vote using your mail-in ballot, which you can either drop off at a secure ballot drop box, at a vote center, or return by mail with no postage required.

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DROP BOXES?

You can also drop off your ballot at an official drop off box (note that authorities are warning that other illegal boxes have shown up in Southern California, and elsewhere around the state).

Why does it matter? In a memo sent to all county registrars statewide after the fake drop boxes were reported, Secretary of State Alex Padilla wrote:

"In short, providing unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes is prohibited by state law."

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WHAT CAN I EXPECT WITH THE NEW VOTING MACHINES?

Another big change that rolled out during the March 2020 primary in L.A. County? In-person voters used new "ballot marking machines," with digital touch-screen tablet computers similar to an iPad. Prior to 2020, Los Angeles voting technology hadn't changed in decades.

(Here is more info about why these changes happened, and this is what the L.A. County machines look like in action.)

CAN I VOTE IN A COUNTY OTHER THAN WHERE I'M REGISTERED?

If you're voting in person, you can only vote in the county in which you are registered.

In Los Angeles County and Orange County, you can go to any vote center within your county to vote.

If you're voting by mail, you can drop off your ballot in any secure drop box in your county or mail it from anywhere in the U.S., no postage required. The ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive within 17 days of Nov. 3.

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IS VOTING IN-PERSON SAFE?

Long lines at some vote centers during the March primary certainly looked like coronavirus "super spreader" events waiting to happen. But the expansion of vote-by-mail will help.

There will also be a lot of precautions at the in-person voting sites:

Sanitizing all surfaces before and after use, physical distancing, and faceguards and masks for all election employees. Masks will also be required for voters -- and they'll be provided to people who don't have them.

DO I HAVE TO VOTE ON EVERYTHING FOR MY VOTE TO BE COUNTED?

Nope! The number of races or ballot measures you weigh in on is entirely up to you. Your ballot will be counted all the same.

HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY BALLOT WAS RECEIVED AND COUNTED?

The Secretary of State offers an online "Where's My Ballot?" tracking tool, for peace of mind. Counties also have them:

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR RESULTS TO COME IN?

Once the polls close, settle in for a wait.

It takes a long time to count ballots in the largest state in the nation, with more than 20 million registered voters, where the election system is designed to maximize participation, not speedy tabulation.

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Vote-by-mail ballots that are postmarked on or by Nov. 3 must be counted if they arrive up to 17 days after the election. County election staff also spend a lot of time verifying signatures, checking conditional registrations and provisional ballots.

And this year will likely bring a huge jump in vote-by-mail participation. Those ballots take longer to process and count than in-person voting.

WHO DO I CONTACT IF I RUN INTO PROBLEMS AT THE POLLS?

The California Secretary of State has a voting hotline that you can call to report any issues: (800) 345-VOTE. You can also contact your county registrar's office.

HOW DO I GET IN TOUCH WITH MY LOCAL ELECTIONS OFFICE?

Here's a list of contact information maintained by the California Voter Foundation.

I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS. HOW DO I GET IN TOUCH WITH KPCC/LAIST?

Ask us anything in the box below and our Voter Game Plan team will do our best to get you an answer.