Radio and TV advertisements, billboards and lawn signs — it can mean only one thing: an election is near.
This year’s general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
If you’re registered to vote, you should’ve already received your mail-in ballot. But if you’re still unsure about the next steps to take, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s everything you need to know about voting in the general election.
Registering to vote
Before you can cast your ballot and make your voice heard, you have to be registered to vote.
Most people register around the time they renew their driver’s license at the DMV, but other sign up during in-person events hosted by groups looking to register as many people as possible.
In California, you can also register to vote online. But if you haven’t registered by now, the window to register online is now closed.
But don’t worry, California is one of the states in the U.S. that allows voters to register on Election Day.
What you’ll need to do is head down to your polling station on Tuesday, speak with a poll worker and tell them you need to same-day register to vote.
To register, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen and California resident, 18 years old or older on Election Day, not serving a state or federal prison term conviction of a felony and not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court.
The voter registration application will ask for your driver’s license or California identification card number, but you can also use the last four numbers on your Social Security card. If you don’t have any of those, you can leave that space blank and a county elections official will assign you a number that will identify you as a voter.
If you did not receive a mail-in ballot and you’re unsure whether or not you are already registered to vote, you can find out by contacting your local elections office.
For information on checking your voter registration status, click here.
Voting by mail
The State of California sends out a mail-in ballot to every registered voter. It’s a relatively new change that arose following the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you haven’t already, you can drop off your completed ballot in the mail or at a secure ballot drop box.
Secure ballot drop boxes are placed in public locations and emptied only by trained election staff to prevent anyone else from tampering with the votes inside.
To find a drop box near you, click here.
If you’ve already sent your ballot in and want to see if it’s been collected yet, the state offers a service to track your ballot called, aptly, Where’s My Ballot?
Through the program, you can sign up for text alerts, email or voice notifications that will tell you where your ballot is, whether or not it’s been counted yet and update you on “every step” along the way.
Tracking will become available about a week after you place your ballot in the mail. If you used a drop-off location, those times can vary based off your county’s pick-up schedule.
Any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day is eligible to be counted. If your mail-in ballot is collected by your letter carrier before the day ends and arrives within seven days, it will be counted.
Mail-in ballots received before Election Day will be counted first, California election officials say. Those received on Election Day will be counted on Wednesday, and any ballots received after Election Day will be counted as they come in.
Voting in person
If you want to go with the tried-and-true method of voting in person, California has made it relatively easy.
With the vast number of voters opting to vote by mail, lines at in-person polling stations have been reduced dramatically, meaning you’ll likely spend a lot less time waiting to vote.
But you should still plan accordingly. Unexpected things can come up that could slow down the process — be patient, you’ll have your chance to vote.
If you’re already registered, you should’ve received your mail-in ballot. Be sure you don’t vote twice, which can get you in a bit of trouble and can delay your vote being counted until one of the ballots is discarded.
If you decided to vote in-person, you can mark your ballot at home, sign and date the outside of the envelope in the space provided, and then drop it off at your polling location.
If you would rather mark your votes at your polling place, you can bring your unused ballot and give it to a poll worker and exchange it for an in-person ballot.
If you don’t bring your mail-in ballot with you, you’ll still get your opportunity to vote. A poll worker will simply provide you with a provisional ballot.
If you’re a parent, you can bring your child with you. You can also bring things like notes, your sample ballot, someone to help you or a service animal.
And don’t worry, you can bring your cellphone too.
If you have a photo ID, you probably won’t need it if you’re already registered, but it doesn’t hurt to bring it just in case.
And remember, polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., but if you are in line when polls close, you are still eligible to vote.
Stay in line until your turn to vote comes up; poll workers are aware of these rules, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you have questions about something that isn’t covered, or if you just have general questions about election day or your ballot, you can contact your local elections office or call the California Voter Hotline at 800-345-VOTE (8683).