The COVID-19 pandemic will change the way some Californians vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election, with expanded access to vote-by-mail, extended hours at many polling places, ballot tracking with advance sign-up and on-site safety precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Due to COVID-19, there may be fewer in-person voting locations in your county than normal,” advises Secretary of State Alex Padilla in the Official Voter Information Guide. “You can help your community by voting early this year, either by mail or in person.”
Californians can register to vote until Oct. 19. After that, new voters have to register and cast ballots in person.
Counties across the state will begin mailing ballots to every registered California voter Oct. 5. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. All voters in line by 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Other deadlines and procedures vary from county to county. The 2016 California Voter’s Choice Act, which is in effect in 15 counties, expands early voting and allows voters to cast a ballot at any vote center in the county — not just their local precinct. In Sacramento County, for example, some vote centers open Oct. 24, with additional polling places available from Oct. 29 through the Nov. 3 election. (For links to individual counties, visit the California Secretary of State website.)
All California voters have the option to vote by mail or in person. To vote by mail, voters must put their completed ballot in the postage-paid return envelope that is provided. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and must be received no later than 17 days after Election Day.
“Be sure to sign and date the outside of your return envelope,” says Elizabeth Leslie of the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, a nonpartisan political organization. “If your signature doesn’t match your voter registration, elections officials are required to notify you, giving you an opportunity to verify your signature and have your vote counted. But if you don’t sign and date the outside of your return envelope, your ballot won’t be counted.”
Voters may also deposit their completed ballots at any polling place or ballot drop box location. For those who prefer to vote in person, Leslie suggests going to a vote center before Election Day. “It will be less crowded and easier to maintain social distance,” she says.
To vote in person, voters should take the ballot they received in the mail. They may surrender that ballot and vote with a regular ballot if they choose. Voters who did not receive a ballot in the mail may request one at the polling place.
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