How to get an absentee ballot and vote by mail in California

Election guide
A voter completes her mail-in ballot at home in Laguna Niguel on Oct. 24, 2018. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

A voter completes her mail-in ballot at home in Laguna Niguel on Oct. 24, 2018. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

All registered voters in California are set to be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

The ballots will be sent out by Oct. 5, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Ballots for those in the military or who live overseas are sent out 45 days before the election.

This is the first election in which all California registered voters will receive an absentee ballot under an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In California, an absentee ballot is the same as a vote-by-mail ballot.

This year, mail-in ballots received up to 17 days after Election Day will be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, Padilla said. In previous years, ballots had to be received within three days of the election.

Voting early or in person instead of by mail

Early voting and in-person polling locations will still be available, and voters can also drop off their mail-in ballot at a polling location or in a neighborhood dropbox.

But in-person voting will face changes to account for social distancing, and officials fear a shortage of poll workers could cause delays.

State officials are encouraging Californians to vote by mail.

Los Angeles County has yet to finalize its list of vote centers, but massive venues including Dodger Stadium, The Forum and SoFi Stadium are expected to make the list. The registrar’s office said it also plans to use as many as 150 L.A. Unified school campuses.

Even before the pandemic, on March 5, state officials ordered L.A. County to send mail-in ballots to all 5.6 million of its registered voters, citing “deep concerns” about computer glitches and hourslong lines in the presidential primary.

Make sure you’re registered

The last day to pre-register to vote is Oct. 19, but state law also allows same-day registration at polling places — meaning voters can register in person on Election Day or when voting early.

Those who complete same-day registration will cast a provisional ballot, meaning it will be subject to voter registration verification before it’s counted.

Register to vote or update your voter information by visiting RegisterToVote.ca.gov.

To register online, you’ll need your birthdate, state driver’s license or ID card number, and the last four digital of your Social Security number. Your information will be shared with the state DMV to retrieve a copy of your signature.

If you are a U.S. citizen without a state driver’s license or ID card, you can still apply to register online but will have to visit your county registrar’s office to complete the process.

How to check your voter registration status

Unsure of your voter registration status? You can look it up at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.

You’ll need your name, state driver’s license or ID card number, last four digits of your Social Security number, and birthdate. The site will tell you your status, the address you’re registered at, your party preference, and if you’re a permanent vote-by-mail voter. You can also sign up to get voter info guide by email or by regular mail, or both.

In Los Angeles County, check your registration status at lavote.net/vrstatus. You just need your last name, birthday, house number (i.e., “123” for an address on 123 Soto St.), and your ZIP code. You can find your registration status, your party preference, your quick check-in code (which can be scanned to speed up check-in for in-person voting at a vote center) and, within 30 to 40 days of Nov. 3, a link to your vote center location.

The county also offers a personalized guide to create a voting plan at plan.lavote.net.

If your status is listed as inactive in L.A. County, you can call 800-815-2666 for help or re-register to vote. 

What to do if you lose your ballot

If you lose your mail-in ballot or make a mistake, you can contact your county elections office to request a second ballot be sent.

In L.A. County, request assistance by calling 800-815-2666, option 2, or emailing votebymail@rrcc.lacounty.gov. Election materials can also be requested in another language by calling 800-815-2666, option 3.

If you returned your mail-in ballot without a signature, your local elections office can mail you a document called an unsigned ballot statement. You have up to 28 days after the election to return it. Ballots without a signature will not be processed.

How to track your ballot

This year, officials are rolling out a system that will text, email or call voters to update them on where their ballot is, including whether it has been received or counted.

Register at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to track your ballot.

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