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How Voting Will Work For The 2020 Election

A sign outside a Los Angeles County vote center in Palmdale, CA on May 3, 2020. Libby Denkmann for LAist
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This November we'll be voting on...

  • The next U.S. president
  • The future of the country's largest prosecutor's office
  • A significant potential rollback of California's Proposition 13
  • Affirmative action
  • And a whole lot more

... all while still in the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide reckoning over race and police brutality.

No pressure.

Meanwhile, our local leaders are still figuring out exactly how this election will work.

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The March 2020 primary election -- which took place just as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to threaten shutdowns across the country -- was punctuated by some newsworthy-long lines, glitches with the machines, and confusion over a new system. Since then, things have gotten even more complicated with stay-at-home orders, social distancing rules, and the steady drumbeat of new coronavirus cases.

Below is what we know so far about what voting will look like in November.


L.A. County supervisors passed a motion in April to send all 5.4 million registered voters in the county a mail-in ballot for the November election.

Gov. Gavin Newsom then signed a bill in June to require every county in California to send all registered voters a mail-in ballot for November.

So if you want one too, be sure to register to vote.

Voters must still postmark their ballots on or before Election Day in order for their votes to be processed.

Pre-pandemic, ballots had only three days after Election Day to arrive to elections officials, or they would not be counted. Now, that window has been extended to 17 days after Election Day.

Here is our extensive Q&A with answers to questions you didn't even know you had about voting by mail.


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As with the March 3 primary, L.A. County will be making use of regional vote centers instead of traditional polling places.

Voters can go to those centers to register to vote, cast their ballots if they lost or never received a mail-in ballot, or change their address or party affiliation all the way up through Election Day.

And, as with the March 3 primary, some vote centers will be open for voting 10 days before Nov. 3, and most will open three days before.

The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's office will have safety protocols for each voting center in order to prevent poll workers and voters from spreading or catching the virus. It hasn't released complete guidance yet, but some measures mentioned on the registrar's website include requiring election workers to:

  • Wear protective gloves and masks
  • Clean surfaces and ballot marking devices after each voter
  • Limit the number of voters in one area at a given time
  • Enforce social distancing of 6 feet


The primary election took place approximately 1,000 years ago on March 3, 2020.

It was the first test of L.A. County's use of new regional vote centers and electronic ballot-marking devices.

There were some complaints.

While many people reported an easy experience with little or no wait times, Election Day also saw voters face hours-long waits, broken machines, technical issues with the check-in process, and confusion over where to actually show up to vote.

"In Los Angeles County, too many voters faced unacceptably long wait times," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said after the election. L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan apologized for the mishaps, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors called for an investigation into what went wrong.

Some of the factors that contributed to the issues on March 3 likely won't pose the same kinds of problems in November. For one, with the pandemic still raging and mail-in ballots available to all registered voters, there won't be much incentive to show up at a packed voting center to cast a ballot this fall.

Additionally, back in March, several candidates in the Democratic presidential primary dropped out in the weeks leading up to the election -- which led many voters to hold out until the last minute to vote so they could be sure their candidate was still in the running.

That's not an issue in November, either.

But the upcoming election will still further test L.A.'s voting system. Will the delivery and processing of 5.4 million mail-in ballots go smoothly?

Will technical problems with the electronic check-in systems and ballot-marking devices be fixed? Will the county have a way to indicate which voting centers have long or short wait times and direct resources and voters accordingly?

While we ruminate on some of these questions, ask us any of yours below. We'll try and look into them as we get closer to November.

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