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Voting & Elections Toolkits

Voter Registration in California

Eligibility

Deadline

Election Calendar:https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/upcoming-elections/

Online registration

To use the online voter registration system you must have a current and valid driver’s license, learner’s permit or non-driver photo identification card issued by the CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If the voter does not have a signature on file with DMV, they must print the application, sign the paper copy, and mail it to their county elections official.

Online registration form (in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese): https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voter-registration/

Mail-in registration

Paper forms can be found at county elections offices, libraries, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, or U.S. post offices. Voters can request paper voter registration applications be mailed to them by calling (800) 345-VOTE(8683) or emailing Elections Division staff through the online form at: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/contact/email-elections-division/

Refer to the box below for information about ID requirements.

Choosing a political party   

You may choose a political party affiliation when you register, but it is not required.No Party Preference (NPP) voters get a “non-partisan” ballot in presidential primary elections. (See more in “Primaries vs. general elections” box.)                 

Updating registration      

To update registration after a move, name change, or change of political party affiliation use My Voter Status:https://voterstatus.sos.ca.gov/

Cancelling registration

County elections offices maintain the voter rolls. To cancel registration, the voter completes the California Voter Registration Cancellation Request Form and submits it to their county elections office.

County elections offices: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/county-elections-offices/

ID Requirements for California Voters

ID Requirements for Registration

Online Registration

For online voter registration, a California driver license or state ID, the last four digits of the voter’s social security information, and the voter’s date of birth is required.

Voters who are enrolled in California's confidential address program, Safe At Home, please do not apply to register to vote using the above site. Contact the Safe At Home program toll-free at (877) 322-5227 or by the Safe At Home email form at https://www.sos.ca.gov/registries/safe-home/contact/email-safe-home/

Mail-in Registration

To register with a paper voter registration application, voters can pick one up at their county elections office, library, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, or U.S. post office. It is important that the voter registration application be filled out completely and be postmarked or hand-delivered to your county elections office at least 15 days before the election.

To request a paper voter registration application be mailed to you, please call (800) 345-VOTE(8683) or email Elections Division staff through the form at: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/contact/email-elections-division/

ID Requirements for Voting

First-Time Voters

In most cases, voters, including first-time voters are not required to show ID, however, it is a good idea for first time voters to bring ID. In particular, “[a] poll worker may ask to see your identification if you mailed your voter registration application and did not include your driver license number, California identification number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.” Acceptable ID includes photo ID such as “passport, driver license, official California identification card, or student identification card” OR “A copy of a recent utility bill, the county Voter Information Guide you received from your county elections office, or another document sent to you by a government agency”

All Other Voters

In most other cases, voters are not required to show ID at the polling place.

More information: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/voting-california/where-and-how-vote/#id

Where to get an ID

Department of Motor Vehicles

If an applicant for a driver’s license or ID card is eligible to vote in California, they will be registered to vote automatically, unless they opt out.

Obtaining a Driver’s License

Casting a Ballot in California

Important Dates

  • Primary Election: March 3, 2020
  • General Election: November 3, 2020
  • Counties that have implemented the California Voter’s Choice Act will have vote centers that open 10 days before election day. For more information on the Voter’s Choice Act:https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voters-choice-act/

Absentee voting

Who is eligible to use an absentee ballot?

  • Military and overseas voters, as defined by the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, may request a special absentee ballot when they register or re-register with updated information at RegisterToVote.ca.gov
  • In addition, any registered voter may apply to vote by mail. The form for registration must be returned to the voter’s county elections official no later than seven days prior to the election. Voters can apply for permanent vote by mail status.

More information: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/frequently-asked-questions/#v or https://www.fvap.gov/california

Vote by mail application: https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/vote-by-mail/pdf/vote-by-mail-application.pdf

Polling places and hours

  • Use the Polling Place Locator to find your polling place: https://gettothepolls.com/
  • For any election, polls in California are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Time off to vote: California Elections Code section 14000 allows workers up to two hours off, without a loss of pay, to vote if they do not have enough time to do so in their non-work hours. The law requires workers to notify their employers two working days before the election if they need to take time off to vote.

Rides to the polls

Many organizations offer free rides to polling places. Some of these include:

  • Lyft (www.lyft.com) provides free or discounted rides in some underserved communities
  • Carpool Vote matches people who need a ride to the polls with volunteer drivers:
  • Political parties sometimes arrange rides for voters. Contact the local office:

Help for disabled voters

Ballots

Voters may enter their zip code at Voter’s Edge California (http://votersedge.org/ca) to find their local ballots

Sample ballots

Elections

Primaries vs. general elections

  • Primary elections are conducted to select each party’s candidates in the general election.
  • In California voters who have not stated a party preference (No Party Preference or NPP) will receive a “non-partisan” ballot that does not include presidential candidates. A nonpartisan ballot contains only the names of candidates for voter-nominated offices and local nonpartisan offices and measures. However, NPP voters may vote in a political party's partisan election if the political party authorizes it. An NPP voter may request the ballot of one of the political parties that authorizes them to vote in the presidential primary election. Parties that will allow NPP voters to request their party’s presidential ballot in the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election are:
    • American Independent Party
    • Democratic Party
    • Libertarian Party
  • For more information: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/political-parties/no-party-preference/
  • In a general election, voters are not required to have a party affiliation.

Jurisdiction

Offices/Measures That May Appear on the Ballot

Federal (even years)

President/Vice-President (elected every four years; next election in 2020)

Senator (elected every six years for staggered terms; next election in 2022)

Representative (elected every two years)

State (even years)

Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Comptroller, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Board of Equalization Members (elected every four years; next election in 2022)

State Senator (elected every two years)

State Representative (elected every two years)

Statewide ballot measures

Municipal (even or odd years)

Which positions are elected depends on county. Examples of offices/measures that may be on ballot include:

School Board and other boards and commissions

Mayor

City Clerk

City Attorney

Treasurer-Tax Collector

City Council

Local ballot measures

Who are the candidates, and what else is on the ballot?

Important Dates

Election Day is November 3, 2020

Dates of statewide elections can be found on the Secretary of State’s website:https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/voting-california/election-dates-and-resources/

Dates of local elections can be found on the websites of each county’s elections office:https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/county-elections-offices/

Who conducts elections?

  • The California Secretary of State oversees statewide and local elections
  • County Elections Offices maintain voter rolls, prepares ballots and administers balloting for each county

Where to go with complaints about candidates or how elections are conducted

The California Secretary of State’s Investigative Services (https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/publications-and-resources/voter-complaint/) handles reports of Elections Code violations. The Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission (http://www.fppc.ca.gov/enforcement/file-a-complaint.html) handles complaints about violations of the Political Reform Act. Voters can report election related misinformation at votesure@sos.ca.gov

Campaign finance

The Secretary of State’s Political Reform Division (https://www.sos.ca.gov/campaign-lobbying/) provides access to information about campaign contributions and spending, and lobbying activity through the CAL-ACCESS website: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/

How to contact your elected officials:

Find your elected officials: https://clerk.assembly.ca.gov/content/elected-officials

General Resources on Voting and Elections

General Resources on Voting and Elections


Hotlines


1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)

1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español)

1-888-API-VOTE (Asian multilingual assistance)


Voter Registration & Election Day Resources

Find useful voter information including:

  • Local Election Office and Contact Information
  • Address, Telephone and Email for Local Election Offices
  • Upcoming Federal Election Dates and Deadlines
  • Upcoming State Election Dates and Deadlines
  • Eligibility Requirements
  • Identification Requirements
  • Voter Materials Transmission Options
  • State Lookup Tools – Am I Registered? Where’s my Ballot?

Population-Specific information and Resources

Voting Rights: Laws, Cases, Policy

Voter Engagement

Voter Education

Campaign Finance/Funding Information

Primary Sources, Lesson Plans & Exhibits

Disclaimer

Librarians from the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), a Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA), created these reference guides. These guides are intended for informational purposes only and are not in any way intended to be legal advice.

These guides are designated with a Creative Commons license and re-use and modification for educational purposes is encouraged.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.