Election Day—November 3, 2020—will be here extremely soon, and, between the uncommonly high stakes of this election and the ongoing risks of life during a pandemic, it is going to be an Election Day unlike anything many of us have ever experienced. This year is likely to see many Americans voting for the first time and taking advantage of a variety of methods to cast their ballots, including mail-in, drop-off, early voting, and traditional voting machines on Election Day. That can be confusing, so here’s everything you need to know about voting in Los Angeles in 2020.
If you happen to be located elsewhere and looking for information specific to your area, check out When We All Vote for resources.
What is the Voter Registration Deadline in California?
The advance voter registration deadline in California is October 19. Up to that date, you can submit your registration online via the California Secretary of State’s website. Given delays reported within the U.S. Postal Service, if you intend to register by mail or would like to be sure you receive your mail-in ballot with plenty of time to return it by mail, it’s wise to begin the process as soon as possible. Vote-by-mail ballots will start going out to voters on October 5.
Even if you’re pretty sure your registration is up to date and active, take a moment to check your registration status on the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s website. There is also a tool on the California Secretary of State’s website, which gives you a chance to confirm details and update your address if needed. (Note: The latter requires a California license or ID to check registration, while the former does not. You do not need a California license or ID to vote in California.)
If for some reason you’re not able to complete your registration in time, that does not mean you cannot vote. California offers conditional voter registration in the final 14 days up to and including Election Day (you may have also heard this called “same day” voter registration). To avail yourself of it, you’ll just need to go in person to a voting location. On Election Day, your local polling location will be able to accept your registration. During early voting, a more limited number of voting sites will be able to register you on the spot, but the Secretary of State’s website will have a list of the ones where you can go.
Do I Need to Request a Mail-In Ballot?
In California, you do not need to request a mail-in or absentee ballot. Due to the pandemic and extraordinary circumstances of this election, every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail automatically. (This is not true in every state, so if you have friends and family in places like Kentucky or Missouri where rules are very different, make sure they consult local authorities.)
What you do with that mail-in ballot when you get it is up to you. Receiving a mail-in ballot does not mean you have to vote by mail. You certainly can, and should feel confident doing so. Even with the slower delivery of mail that has recently been reported, California accepts and counts mailed ballots that arrive up to November 18, as long as they are postmarked by November 3 (in other words, even if you wait until Election Day to drop your ballot in the mail, California waits two more weeks for your ballot to arrive).
Nonetheless, if you want to give your ballot plenty of time to arrive, there is no need to wait before putting it back in the mail. You can send your completed mail-in ballot back as soon as you’re ready–and the sooner, the better.
How Do I Check the Tracking Status for My Ballot?
New this year in California is a statewide online tracking system for mail-in ballots. A new, opt-in service called Where’s My Ballot? allows you to see exactly where your ballot is–and it tracks it both on its way to you and after you’ve sent it back. If you see any strange hold-ups along the way, reach out to email@example.com.
What Should I Do If I Do Not Want to Return My Ballot by Mail?
The simplest and safest option may be filling out your mail-in ballot at home as if you were going to mail it back, but instead taking the completed ballot to a ballot drop-off location or early voting center. Any facility set up for early voting can put your sealed, completed ballot right into the pool to be counted. A number of special, secure drop boxes will also be available around the region where you can simply deposit the ballot and know it’s safely skipping the journey through the mail, while remaining contactless. The locations will be listed on the Secretary of State’s website.
Can I Still Use a Voting Machine If I Want to Do So?
You certainly can. Voting centers will be open on Election Day for those who want that experience and will be doing their best to maintain hygiene standards. You can look up your designated polling place online. On Election Day, polling places will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you want to vote with a machine, but still avoid the lines and crowds likely to occur on November 3, consider early voting. A number of voting centers will open on October 24, and more will come online on October 30. The early voting centers are generally open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day in the run-up to the election, but double check before you go. And be sure to wear a mask.
Note: In California, you are not required to show ID to a poll worker before casting a ballot. The only exception is for first-time voters who didn’t include a driver’s license number, California ID number, or last four digits of their Social Security number on their registration application. In that case, there are several acceptable forms of ID, which you can see here.
What Happens After I Vote?
Get ready to wait. Because of the predicted volume of mail-in voting and other extenuating factors, there may be many races on the California–and perhaps even national–ballot that are impossible to call on November 3. Brace yourself for anxious days to come, knowing that at least you did your part.
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