Sign it, get it in early: What you need to know about vote by mail in California

ByLiz Kreutz and Alix Martichoux KGO logo
Friday, October 2, 2020
Everything to know about vote by mail in CA
For many of you, this is new territory. We're clearing up any confusion you may have about mail-in voting.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More Californians are expected to vote by mail and vote early than ever before in the 2020 election. For many, that's new territory. We're clearing up any confusion you may have about mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

How do I get a mail-in ballot?

Every registered voter in California will be a sent a mail-in ballot automatically this year, even if you've always voted in person in the past, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. If you haven't yet registered to vote, you can still do that online up until Oct. 19 and request a mail-in ballot up until Oct. 27. (After those key deadlines, you'll have to register and/or vote in person.)

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When will I get my ballot?

California counties are required to send ballots out by Monday, Oct. 5, so you should expect to get your ballot some time in early October.

What do I need to remember while filling out my ballot?

Sign your ballot! A recent study conducted by the California Voter Foundation found that a key reason mail-in-ballots are rejected is that voters forget to sign their ballot envelope or their signature doesn't match what was on file. In fact, according to the study, young people in at least three counties, including Santa Clara and San Mateo, were three times as likely to have their ballot disqualified because of this. Moral of the story: Make sure to sign your ballot and sign it correctly. Oh, and use a black or blue pen.

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How should I send in my ballot?

You have several options to send in your mail-in-ballot, the most obvious being that you can mail it in (postage not required). You can also drop it off at your county's election office, a local polling place, or a ballot drop box, which will be set up at places like city halls and community centers. Many of these will be open starting in October. To find locations near you and their dates and hours, visit your county's registrar of voters website.

When do I have to send my ballot back?

Any ballot postmarked or dropped off on or before Election Day, Nov. 3, will be counted.

What if I make a mistake on my ballot? Can I change my ballot after I mail it in?

If you make a mistake on your ballot or lose it, you can request a new ballot from your county. You could also bring the mail-in ballot with you to an in-person voting location to be destroyed, in order for you to cast a corrected vote in person.

However, once you mail in your ballot or drop it off at a collection box, that vote is final.

Do I have to vote by mail?

No, you can still vote in person if you'd prefer not to vote by mail. But remember, there will likely be more limited polling locations due to the pandemic, so check your county election's site for options near you and make a plan to vote early if you can't or don't want to vote by mail.

Can I track my ballot? How do I know when it's been counted?

If you go to, you'll see an option for "Where's My Ballot?" Click on that, enter your name, birthday and zip code, and you'll be able to see exactly where your ballot is. You can sign up to get notified when your ballot is sent out, being delivered by USPS, on its way back to the county election's office and officially received and counted.

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Can I still register to vote?

Yes! The deadline to register to vote in California online or by mail is Monday, October 19. If you miss this deadline, you can still register and vote, but you must do so in person at your country's registrar of voters office.