The County Voice

Top 10 Election Questions to Help California Counties Get Out the Vote!

Top 10 Election Questions to Help California Counties Get Out the Vote!

The November election is less than two weeks away. Because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns, this year’s election will likely look very different from previous elections in many counties. We send our deep appreciation to county election officials working hard to adjust to these new election protocols. With every county in California mailing ballots to every active registered voted in the state, you may have already voted yourself, either by mail or via a drop box. However, for new voters, or those unfamiliar with the new process and pandemic protocols, we’ve developed a list of Top 10 Election Questions that County Officials can share with your community to ensure a safe and secure election.

  1. How can you vote in the 2020 Election?

    • Registered voters have many options for the 2020 election. Mail-in ballots were sent to every active registered voter. These ballots can be returned via mail, dropped off in an official ballot collection box, or returned to any polling location, whether it’s an early voting location or a polling place on Election Day. Registered voters can also vote in person, if they so choose. It’s important to note that each registered voter may only vote once, in one of the above mentioned ways, so voters showing up in person should either take their mail ballot with them or be prepared to cast a provisional ballot. (Provisional ballots just mean that the county will check to make sure the voter didn’t return their mail ballot and vote in person before they count it. Only one vote allowed per person!)
    • Same Day Voter Registration, known as Conditional Voter Registration in state law, is a safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information for an election. Once we’re within two weeks of Election Day, voters should visit for a list of early voting locations where they can complete the same say voter registration process. If you need to register on Election Day, use the polling place lookup tool to find your local polling location. If you have additional questions about locations where you can complete the Same Day Voter Registration process, contact your county elections office.
  2. Where and when can you vote in person?

    • One or more early voting locations will be available in many counties for at least four days beginning the Saturday before the November 3, 2020, election. Voting locations will offer voter registration, replacement ballots, accessible voting machines, and language assistance.
    • Visit to find a Vote Center near you. 
    • Use the polling place lookup tool to find your local polling location.
  3. What is ballot harvesting?

    • Without getting into all the legal back and forth, the general idea is that in California you’re allowed to let someone else return your mail ballot for you. When a lot of voters use the same person to return their ballots, that person is said to be “harvesting” ballots.
    • California changed the law a couple years ago to make it less likely for ballots returned by others to be disqualified, which has opened up new questions about where the line is between legal and illegal ballot harvesting. But it’s always illegal to take someone’s ballot and then not cast it, or to change votes, or even open the envelope!
    • As a personal matter, if you’re entrusting your ballot to someone, make sure you trust them to return it!
  4. How do you locate (and validate) an official ballot collection box?

    • Search voting locations and ballot drop off options on the Secretary of State’s website, You can also contact your county for locations. Drop boxes vary county-by-county so be sure to verify the drop box location via the Secretary of State’s office or your county. When in doubt, deliver directly to your official County Elections Office.
  5. What postage is needed for ballots?

    • None! The mail-in ballot comes with pre-paid postage. No stamps are required to return the ballot.
  6. When should you mail your ballot?

    • Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3, 2020, and received no later than Friday, November 20, 2020. You may also return your ballot in person to an official polling location in your county by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. If you already know how you’re going to vote, we recommend mailing them as soon as possible!
  7. How do you know if your ballot has been received?

    • Where’s My Ballot is a new optional service from the Secretary of State’s office for tracking vote-by-mail ballots. Voters who sign up get notifications when their ballot is mailed, received, and counted, no matter how the voter returns their ballot.
    • Each county elections official allows voters to check the status of their vote-by-mail and provisional ballot either through the county website, by telephone, or both. Find the contact information for your county here.
    • Under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, every voter who casts a provisional ballot is entitled to find out from their county elections official if the ballot was counted and, if not, why not. In California, Elections Code sections 3017 (PDF) and 3019.5 (PDF) give the same right to mail voters.
  8. What can you expect if you vote in person?

    • Expect to exercise your democracy!
    • Because of California’s laws about mailing ballots to all voters and how many polling places counties have to have, you shouldn’t have to wait in line too long, if at all.
    • When you get to the front of the line, sign your name, state your address, and they’ll hand you a ballot. Make your way to a voting booth, fill in the bubbles next to your choices completely, and head to the ballot box.
    • If you don’t bring your mail ballot with you, or if they don’t see your name in the poll book, the poll workers will instruct you to put your ballot in a provisional envelope after voting, so the county can make sure you’re eligible and not voting twice.
    • And please remember to bring and wear a mask. (This is the “love your neighbor” rule.)
  9. Are there clothing restrictions if you vote in person?

    • Aside from the requirements of decency about how to dress in public, there are special rules about what you can wear at voting locations, because state law has long restricted “electioneering” within 100 feet of them. So if you have a shirt or hat or button or muumuu suggesting people vote for or against a candidate or party or any question on the ballot, either cover it up or leave it at home when you’re near a place people are casting or returning ballots.
  10. What should you do or who should you contact if something seems off?

    • If you see something, say something! Of course, by something “off” we don’t mean someone voting differently from you, we mean something that seems to go astray of election rules: someone going through election mail that isn’t theirs, or electioneering at a polling place, or threatening other voters. Who you should say something to depends on the situation. If you’re at or near a polling location, tell the poll workers. If you’re elsewhere in the community, call the county registrar of voters or, for situations that look truly dangerous, the local police or sheriff.

BONUS: What makes voting this year so significant for half of California?

  • We think voting in every election should be significant for every California voter, but 2020 marks an important milestone in voting history. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. To learn more about this historic, and hard fought right, be sure to watch this video from CSAC’s Women’s Leadership Forum.


In the United States, the world’s oldest democratic republic, voting is fundamental, and it is an important right and responsibility of every eligible citizen. Again, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the county election officials for their essential role in this unique election process. Your hard work is appreciated! County officials can also play an important role in making sure every registered voter in your community has the knowledge needed to be a part of the 2020 elections. For additional questions on the 2020 Election, be sure to check out the Secretary of State’s Election website or contact your county election office.

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