What follows is a primer on voting in 2020. It’s based on California law, but options are given for everyone. I hope it’s helpful.
First: Where to get information.
Your first asset is your computer and your search engine. Just Google how to vote in your state.
Your next assets are your county clerk’s office, your city’s municipal offices, and various voting organizations. The simplest is the League of Women Voters which provides all the information you could want and various forms of help. And your local public library.
Public libraries are, by definition, available to all people, if they are open, and they may not be due to the COVID emergency. They are a huge resource that we don’t often think of in this day of online searches. But a call to your local public library will get you the information you need, whether regarding voting, COVID closures, or any other issue. In addition to reference librarians, public libraries usually have computers that can be used without cost (NOTE: such computers are not private), and many other sources of information.
We no longer have phonebooks in big cities, but I believe you can still find them in smaller cities and rural areas. In any phonebook, you can find the number and street address of the closest library.
All right, let’s get started: I am providing primarily information for California. It is a good start for information about your state, but remember, there are several areas of difference among states.
Who can vote?
Here is a website which gives the requirements for voting state by state: https://www.usvotefoundation.org/vote/sviddomestic.htm
In California, you must be:
• a citizen of the United States (whether birth or naturalized),
• a resident of California,
• be at least 18 years of age on Election Day (this year, November 3),
• not in prison or jail or on parole for a felony conviction,
• not having been found mentally incompetent by a court.
THERE ARE NO OTHER REQUIREMENTS. Let me repeat that. THERE ARE NO OTHER REQUIREMENTS.
NOTE: If your voting rights have been revoked due to one of the above issues, you can get your voting rights restored in several ways, but that is beyond the scope of this post. I suggest you ask Google how to restore your voting rights. Or your friendly neighborhood librarian.
There are some states that have other requirements, or there are variations on such requirements as age. Some states require an ID to vote. Except for the very first time you vote in person in California, no ID will be requested because your information will be on file.
How do I vote?
You must register to vote. You may register as a Republican, a Democrat, Independent, or without claiming an affiliation. If you believe you are registered, go to http://www.vote.org and find out if you truly are. I don’t know how to check on registration without access to a computer, but I would imagine if you went to or called the Board of Elections you could find out.
Computer databases can be tricky things, plus there are anecdotal statements out there floating around that your registration to vote can disappear without you being aware of it. Please check your registration status immediately.
If you have not registered before, or if you just reached 18, or if you just moved to California or to any other state, please read on. If you are 17 but will be 18 by Election Day, you can pre-register.
Okay, how do I register? And by when?
You may register on-line or by mail. In California, you may request a form and either mail it or hand it in personally at the Board of Elections. Easiest, of course, is online and it takes much less time.
To register online in California, type in RegisterToVote.ca.gov which will provide you with all needed information. Normally, whatever your state, all you need to do is so type into your search engine: how do I register to vote in [name of state].
You need to give them (in the online form) your Driver’s License number, or if you don’t have one, you can get (and should have) an official state ID. You get this at the DMV and for all identification purposes it is valid in the US. You will need to give permission for the state to use the DMV stored digital signature, and the last four digits of your SS number.
If you don’t want to do this, the other option is a mail-in registration. The information required is given on the same web page.
(From the California web page on voting:)
Use the California voter registration form
You can also register to vote using the California voter registration form or obtain a form at your local library, U.S. Post Office, or Department of Motor Vehicles offices. Be sure to read the instructions carefully and fill it out completely. Send the completed form to your county elections official. To register by mail, the form must be postmarked by Monday, October 19.
Use the National Voter Registration Form
1. Print and fill out the National Voter Registration Form.
2. Box 6 – ID Number: When you register to vote, you must provide your California driver’s license or California identification card number, if you have one. If you do not have a driver’s license or ID card, you must provide the last four digits of your Social Security number (SSN). If you do not include this information, you will be required to provide identification when you vote.
3. Box 7 – Choice of Party: California does NOT require that you register with a party to participate in partisan primary elections. However some parties do not allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their party’s presidential, local, or county committee primary elections.
4. Box 8 – Race or Ethnic Group: Leave blank. This information is not required.
5. Review the “Who can vote?” section above and check that you’re eligible.
6. Sign the form.
7. Send the completed form to your local election official. To register by mail, the form must be postmarked by Monday, October 19, 2020.
8. If you are registering to vote for the first time in your jurisdiction and are mailing this registration application, Federal law requires you to show proof of identification the first time you vote. Proof of identification includes: A current and valid photo identification or A current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows your name and address. More information here.
(Back to me.)
In California, you can get the form at the Post Office, the local DMV, or the library, all of which may be difficult in this time of COVID. If you have access, even occasionally, to a computer, I recommend using the online registration process. It is simple and private and safe. If you can’t, you can get the forms as above, and submit them at the time or to the address given on the form.
To request a paper voter registration application be mailed to you, please call (800) 345-VOTE(8683) or email Elections Division staff. Considering current difficulties, I would suggest you do this right away.
The primary address of the Elections Division of the Secretary of State of California is:
1500 11th Street, 5th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone Number & Email
Phone: (916) 657-2166
Fax: (916) 653-3214
I have not used the address above or the email or phone, but I would imagine at this time they are very busy.
MAJOR NOTE: THE LAST DATE TO REGISTER FOR THE UPCOMING ELECTION ON NOVEMBER 3, 2020 IS OCTOBER 19, 2020. YOU CAN GET A “PROVISIONAL REGISTRATION”AT A POLLING PLACE IN CALIFORNIA WHEN YOU GO TO VOTE, BUT YOU WILL NOT GET A MAIL-IN BALLOT AND MUST GO TO YOUR LOCAL POLLING PLACE.
(Again, from the California website:)
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.
Eligible citizens who need to register or re-register to vote within 14 days of an election, can complete this process to register and vote at their county elections office, polling place, or vote center. Their ballots will be processed and counted once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process.
Visit caearlyvoting.sos.ca.gov for a list of early voting locations where you can complete the Same Day Voter Registration Process.
Need to register on Election Day? Use our polling place lookup tool to find your local polling location.
Have additional questions about locations where you can complete the Same Day Voter Registration process? Contact your county elections office
(Back to me.)
NOTE: The Board of Elections will match your signature, whether on a mail-in ballot or in person, to your DMV signature OR to the signature you provide when you register to vote by mail.
NOTE AGAIN: The issue here is to prove your residency in California and that you are a citizen (via the SS number). THERE IS NO OTHER PURPOSE.
NOTE THRICE: In regard to the National voter registration form, please check with your Board of Elections, DMV, or Post Office in your state to see what information your state requires. The above highlighted information applies to California.
College Students and Voters Living Abroad
If you are a Californian living away from home while attending a college, trade school or technical school, or a voter living temporarily outside the United States, please see College Students and Voters Living Abroad
Basically, there is NO difference in California law between an “absentee ballot” and a “mail-in ballot”. If you are a California resident but live outside the state temporarily, or a college student ditto, you will need a computer to go to the main website listed above to request a mail-in ballot.
Are You Already Registered to Vote?
To find out if you are currently registered to vote, visit Check Status of Your Voter Registration.
When to Re-Register to Vote
You need to re-register to vote when:
• You change your name, or
• You change your political party choice, or
• You change your address
As a California voter, be aware that local elections in some areas are held on dates that do not coincide with statewide election dates. The 15-day close of registration deadline for these local elections varies depending on the actual date of the election. If you need to know a deadline for a local election, contact your county elections office or visit County Administered Elections.
California Motor Voter
The California Motor Voter program is making registering to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) more convenient. Eligible applicants completing a driver license, identification (ID) card or change of address transaction online, by mail or in person at the DMV, will be automatically registered to vote by the California Secretary of State, unless they choose to opt out of automatic voter registration. For more information, visit California Motor Voter
Okay, I’m registered. How do I vote?
Mail-in ballots in California are supposed to be sent out October 5, 2020. My local mail carrier tells me that they should arrive in voters’ mailboxes within a week. Please ask your mail carrier if you don’t get your ballot in a timely manner.
Please register before then, at least a week before, to give yourself the best assurance that you will receive one. When you register, you will receive, hopefully timely, a card stating that you are a registered voter.
Technically, you may register up to and including Election Day as noted above. If you go to your polling place and you haven’t registered or it can’t be found, you can register there and cast a Provisional Ballot. If this is your situation, make sure you take with you ID (driver’s license or California ID), plus something (printed utility bills are the best here) to prove you live where you say you do. You will also need to do this if this is the first time you’re voting.
However, this year being the carnival ride it is, I would urge you to register now. That means today if you haven’t already registered. If you know you have, check it (see above). I would also urge you to NOT to wait until November 3 to vote, even if you wish to vote in person.
If you wish to vote in person, you can early vote any time between October 5 and November 2. Please check via the Board of Elections or online to determine which polling place is yours (based on address) and whether and during what hours it will be open for voting after October 5. Make sure your registration is active before you do this or it will be an exercise in frustration. NOTE: Not all polling places will be open for early voting. Please check with the California Department of State.
If you want to vote by mail (in spite of everything this is still my plan), fill out your ballot and seal it and DO NOT FORGET TO SIGN THE ENELOPE WHERE STATED. This signature is matched against the signature provided by the DMV or by you on your registration application.
To give it the best chance of arriving while it still can be counted, you can do any of the following:
• Go to your local Post Office and ask that the envelope be postmarked right while you’re there. By law, any mail-in ballot or absentee ballot MUST be counted if it is postmarked on November third or BEFORE.
• To make assurance double sure, sacrifice two stamps (the postage must be 55 cents for the size and weight of the ballot) so that it cannot be mailed bulk rate but must be mailed first class.
• If you are as paranoid as I am, you can at that time mail it registered mail, return receipt requested, which is an additional charge and a nuisance, but the return receipt is postmarked when it is mailed to you so you can prove to yourself that your ballot arrived.
California State Government has a website that provides all polling places and all locations of ballot drop-off boxes. These are not, so far as I can tell, currently up and running as the Board of Elections is searching for safe polling places. My second plan for myself is to fill out my ballot and take it physically over to the drop off box closest to me (probably in a fire house or some other secured location), drop it in and then give a big sigh of relief. The sooner you do this after you receive your ballot, the surer you can be that it will be counted before or on November 3.
I want to say good luck, but this shouldn’t be a matter of luck. If you have special issues that I haven’t covered, the California Secretary of State website is a real resource. Plus, the website allows you to use a language other than English if that’s necessary.
The franchise is a basic citizen’s right and duty in the United States and it has never been more important than now to make your voice heard. Please remember that your local, county, and state governments are run by YOUR elected officials, so this is not merely a matter of the Presidential or other national elections. Your vote can significantly impact the way you live in your neighborhood as much as it does the national government.
Please vote early to make sure it is counted.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you find it helpful.
What follows is a primer on voting in 2020. It’s based on California law, but options are given for everyone. I hope it’s helpful.