Millions of Californians have already cast their ballot by mail, but millions more are expected to show up to the polls for early voting this weekend and on Election Day.
They’ll do this amid concerns about voter intimidation, social unrest and a statewide spike in coronavirus cases.
To answer questions about how to vote this year, including how to stay safe while voting in-person and what you can and can’t do at the polls, PolitiFact California spoke with election officials and experts.
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:
How Do I Find My Polling Place?
The California Secretary of State’s Office allows voters to look up their polling place on this website.
Also, all registered voters should have received a voter information guide from their county elections office listing their polling place or vote center. Contact information for all county election offices is here.
How Does Early In-Person Voting Work?
In-person voting locations opened in a few counties — including Sacramento and Los Angeles — on Oct. 24, allowing people to cast their ballot and beat the rush of Election Day. Many additional early voting locations will open on Saturday, Oct. 31 and remain open through Nov. 3. You can look up early voting spots and mail-in ballot drop boxes in your county at this website.
These locations, particularly in counties that have adopted the new vote center model, offer a range of services: You can register to vote, update your registration, receive language assistance and also drop off your mail-in ballot.
Some prominent sports stadiums and arenas are serving as early voting centers through Nov 3. Those include the Sacramento Kings NBA arena, the Golden 1 Center, in downtown Sacramento; Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which opens Oct. 30; and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum which opens Oct. 31 in Oakland.
When Are The Polls Open On Election Day?
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3 and the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You have the right to vote as long as you are in line by 8 p.m.
What If I Haven’t Registered To Vote?
Californians can register to vote up to and including on Election Day. You can do this at early voting locations or at your polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 3. You’ll receive a conditional voter registration because the traditional registration deadline has passed, but you can still cast a provisional ballot which will be counted once your eligibility is verified.
What’s Being Done To Keep In-Person Voting Safe During The Pandemic?
Election officials say they’ll offer free masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and single-use pens to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at voting locations. The state issued guidelines this summer calling for physical distancing, the use of face coverings and regular disinfection at all polling places.
“We have social distancing requirements in place, we have line cues and stanchions that keep voters six feet apart,” said Sacramento County Assistant Registrar Hang Nguyen. “We have regular disinfecting procedures that we have trained our poll workers to do before and after they help each voter that comes into the location. We also limit the number of voters inside of a location at any given time.”
Nguyen added that Sacramento County will also offer masks sized for children, noting kids are welcome to accompany their parents to the polls.
Will Voters Be Required To Wear Masks At Polling Places?
The short answer is no. Anyone without a face covering will be strongly encouraged to wear a free mask offered onsite. But under guidance from the California Secretary of State’s Office, counties cannot turn away people without a mask. Instead, they may ask the maskless person to wait to vote until it’s less crowded or ask them to vote away from others.
“They will still be able to vote. They may be a little bit more isolated in terms of their location,” explained Yolo County Registrar Jesse Salinas. “But we’ll make sure they have the opportunity to vote as well because they have the right to vote.”
Statewide, there’s no single strategy for maskless voters. In Los Angeles County, those who show up without a face covering will be escorted to an outdoor location where they’ll be handed a ballot, the Los Angeles Times reported. In Orange County, they’ll receive their own booth away from others and in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, officials will offer face shields to the voters near the mask-less person.
Do I Need To Bring My Mail-In Ballot To The Polls?
All registered voters were sent a mail-in ballot. While some county election officials are encouraging voters to bring this with them, it’s not required. Salinas of Yolo County said voters who “surrender” their mail-in ballot help the county more quickly cancel out that ballot.
Sam Mahood, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said voters who live in counties with traditional polling places (not the vote center counties), “will have to cast a provisional ballot if they do not bring their vote-by-mail ballot to the polls. The provisional ballot will be processed and counted once the elections office can verify their voter’s registration.”
Can I Turn In My Mail-In Ballot At The Polls?
Yes, voters can turn in their mail-in ballot at early voting locations and on Election Day at their polling location. They can also use authorized ballot drop boxes in their county until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. You can look up official ballot drop box locations here.
Can I Change My Vote?
Election officials say once you submit your ballot, you can’t redo your vote. “No take backs,” said Janna Haynes, Sacramento County elections spokesperson.
“Once you’ve cast your ballot, that’s it,” added California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, speaking on CapRadio’s Insight program on Thursday. “You can’t vote twice, of course.”
Can I Wear A MAGA Hat? What About A Black Lives Matter T-Shirt?
Election officials said campaign gear such as hats, buttons and T-shirts with slogans such as Make America Great Again or Black Lives Matter are acceptable as long as they do not include the specific name or likeness of a candidate on the ballot.
Nguyen of Sacramento County said her county encourages voters not to wear campaign paraphernalia. But “to avoid confrontations,” she said poll workers don’t plan to stop people wearing material with a candidate’s name or likeness. Instead, they’ll try to process those voters as quickly as possible.
How Does Poll Monitoring Work? And What’s Being Done To Prevent Voter Intimidation?
In California, anyone can observe election proceedings but they cannot interfere with the process or intimidate voters. Observers can ask questions of poll workers but they cannot harass, attempt to coerce or ask personal questions of voters. Any campaigning must take place at least 100 feet from the entrance to a voting location. Here are some more details on what's allowed at California polling places.
Election officials encourage anyone who is experiencing voter intimidation to call their county elections office. Here's a list of contact information for each county.
Officials say that poll workers will be monitoring the voting lines and are trained to help de-escalate instances of voter harassment or intimidation.
Local law enforcement officials do not staff polling places, though election officials say they will reach out to police as needed.
Who Else Can I Call If I Experience A Problem At The Polls?
You can call the Secretary of State’s voter hotline 1-800-345-VOTE to get answers about where and how to vote and to document complaints about voter intimidation or harassment. You can also email the Secretary of State’s Office with those questions or complaints [email protected]
Additionally, the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition runs a hotline that can help voters with problems they encounter at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
Are Guns Allowed At The Polls In California?
No, state election law prohibits the general public from bringing firearms to any voting location.
When Will California’s Election Results Be Available?
Counties will release early, incomplete results shortly after 8 p.m. and throughout the night on Nov. 3. But full and final results won’t be known for many days or possibly weeks. That’s because counties must count mail ballots that arrive up to 17 days after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. This is much longer than most states allow.
California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander urged voters, campaigns and politicians to be patient as they wait for results in the days after Nov. 3.
“There’s this ridiculous expectation that we can just have these instantaneous results,” Alexander said. “And it’s just not the way it works when you’re conducting an election where most of the ballots cast are vote-by-mail ballots. Even before COVID in the March primary, 72% of the ballots that were cast were cast as vote by mail ballots and they simply take longer to verify and to count.”
Alexander offered one more piece of advice for those planning to vote in-person next week: Remember there’s a time change this weekend “and it will be much darker out Tuesday evening.”
So, if you want to avoid waiting in a long line, in the dark, in a pandemic, then vote early.
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