Frequently Asked Questions
Who can register to vote?
To register to vote in California, you must be:
- A United States citizen,
- A resident of California,
- 18 years of age or older on Election Day,
- Not found by a court to be mentally incompetent, and
- Not in prison, on parole, serving a state prison sentence in county jail, serving a sentence for a felony pursuant to subdivision (h) of Penal Code section 1170, or on post release community supervision (for more information on the rights of people who have been incarcerated, please see the Secretary of State's Voting Rights for Californians with Criminal Convictions or Detained in Jail or Prison).
How do I register to vote?
To register to vote you must complete a brief voter registration application on paper or online. When you register online, the system will search the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) database for your California driver license or identification card number, date of birth, and last four digits of your social security number. If your information is found and you authorize elections officials' use of your DMV signature, an electronic image of your DMV signature will be added to your voter registration application after you click "submit" at the end of the online application. If there is no signature on file with DMV, all of your information will be transmitted to your county elections office; you will just need to click "print," sign the paper application, and mail it. Your county elections official will contact you when your voter registration application is approved or when more information is needed to confirm your eligibility.
Where can I register to vote?
You may submit your voter registration application through the Secretary of State's website. You can also pick up an application at your county elections office, any Department of Motor Vehicles office, and many post offices, public libraries, and government offices. To have a paper application mailed to you call your county elections office or the Secretary of State's toll-free voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE.
Do I need a California driver license or California identification card to apply online? What happens if the Department of Motor Vehicles does not have my signature on file when I try to submit an application online?
All Californians who are eligible to vote may fill out a voter registration application through the Secretary of State's website. California military and overseas voters may also use the Secretary of State's website to fill out a voter registration application and request a special absentee ballot. If you do not have a California driver license or identification card number but you enter your other information, the website will create a pre-filled voter registration application for you to print, sign, and mail. All of your information will be sent directly to your county elections office so that when your signed application arrives in the mail, the county elections staff will simply add your signature to your voter registration record.
I am eligible to register but I am in the military, living abroad, or temporarily living outside of California. Can I register to vote online?
Yes. California military and overseas voters may also use the Secretary of State's website to fill out a voter registration application and request a special absentee ballot. When filling out an application to register as a special absentee voter, you can choose to have your ballot mailed, faxed, or emailed to you.
Am I automatically registered to vote when I submit the online application?
No. The online voter registration application is another easy avenue for submitting your information but the information you provide in your online application still must be verified by your county elections official. If you have a California driver license or identification card and submit an online voter registration application, the Department of Motor Vehicles is simply sharing a copy of your signature on file so that it can be transferred to your voter registration record. No matter how you turn in your registration application – online or on paper – when it comes to determining a person's eligibility to vote, preventing duplicate registrations, and adding a person to California's official voter rolls, all the same safeguards are in place. Your county elections official will contact you when your voter registration application is approved or when more information is needed to confirm your eligibility.
Are voter registration applications available in languages other than English?
The California Secretary of State's online application is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Can I vote online? Is online voter registration related to online voting?
No. For security reasons, California law prohibits casting a ballot over the Internet. This also means that county elections officials cannot accept marked ballots sent via email from military and overseas voters. If you are a voter as defined by the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, you may return your voted ballot to your county elections office only by mail or fax.
Am I already registered to vote?
To find out if you are currently registered to vote, go to the Secretary of State's Check Status of Your Voter Registration web page.
I did not vote in the last election. Do I need to re-register to vote?
In general, you do not need to re-register because you are registered to vote for as long as you remain at the same address. However, there are cases in which voter registration can be cancelled if a voter has not voted in several consecutive general elections.
What should I do if I have just moved? Am I required to re-register?
Your voter registration record should always reflect your current residence. However, if you have moved from your home into a temporary residence (not your permanent residence), you can continue to use your prior permanent residence where you were registered to vote as your address for the purpose of voting.
What should I do if I changed my name? Am I required to re-register?
If you have legally changed your name, you should re-register to vote so that your voter record reflects your current name. The California Secretary of State recommends that you update your DMV record as soon as you change your legal name.
If you are re-registering online and you have not updated your DMV record with your new name, select "decline" on the application when asked to use your DMV signature to register to vote. If you do not decline use of your DMV signature, your application will be rejected by your county elections official because your DMV signature for your prior name will not match your voter signature with your new name. After you decline to use your DMV signature, continue filling in your information and click "print" at the end of the online application. Your registration information will be transmitted to your county elections office but your new signature is still needed, so sign the paper application and mail it to your county elections office.
As soon as possible, contact the DMV to update your California driver license or identification card.
What is the deadline to register to vote?
The deadline to register to vote is 15 days prior to Election Day, often called E-15. You must submit the voter registration application by midnight on the registration deadline day. A timestamp will be attached to your online voter registration application. If you register to vote using a paper application, it must be postmarked or hand-delivered to your county elections office at least 15 days prior to the election.
If I started to fill out the online voter registration application before midnight on E-15 but didn't finish until after midnight, am I too late?
Yes, you must submit the voter registration application by midnight on the registration deadline day. But your registration application will still be processed and, if it is approved, you will be able to vote in future elections.
I missed the deadline to register to vote. Is there any way I can still vote in this election?
In most cases, you cannot vote if you missed the registration deadline. But ask your county elections official about your specific circumstances.
I registered to vote a while ago but I never got a postcard confirmation from my county elections official. Am I registered?
Give your county elections official any documentation you have to help establish when and where you submitted your voter registration application, such as a receipt with a tracking number or timestamp, or whether you were previously registered to vote elsewhere.
I submitted a voter registration application through another agency, but my county elections office says I'm not registered. What can I do?
Give your county elections official any documentation you have to help establish when and where you submitted your voter registration application, such as a receipt with a tracking number or timestamp, or whether you were previously registered to vote elsewhere.
How can I cancel my California voter registration?
To cancel your voter registration, you must contact your county elections office, which is where your voter registration record is maintained.
If I have problems registering to vote or have additional questions who should I contact?
Call the Secretary of State's toll-free voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683) or contact your county elections office, which is where your voter registration record is maintained.
I want to start a voter registration drive. What do I need to do?
Read the rules for conducting voter registration drives in California. You may also want to contact the county elections office in the county where you plan to conduct the voter registration drive.
How many paper voter registration applications can I get if I want to distribute them in my community?
There is no limit to the number of paper voter registration applications a person may obtain. However, depending on the volume of requests and the number of applications in stock, the Secretary of State or county elections officials may ask requestors to take fewer applications and return later if they need more. The Secretary of State requires the requestor to complete a Statement of Distribution form and a county elections official may require something similar.
Can an iPad, tablet, or smartphone be used to fill out California's online voter registration application?
What online voter registration applications are approved for use in California?
There are two acceptable voter registration applications. Some organizations host websites that encourage voter registration, and some of these websites collect data from people before redirecting them to the California Secretary of State's official online voter registration application. Other websites refer people to the National Mail Voter Registration Application, which cannot be submitted online. If you fill out the national application just print, sign, and mail it to your county elections office.
Is voter registration information confidential?
The voter registration rolls are not available to the general public. However, California law allows certain voter information to be released to a member of the California Legislature or U.S. Congress, or to any candidate, any committee for or against a proposed ballot measure, any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, or political purpose, or for governmental purposes. Even in these cases, a few items remain confidential and are never provided to any requestor: your social security number, your driver license number, and your signature.
Where can I find voter registration statistics?
The California Secretary of State publishes voter registration statistics during every election cycle. Reports of Registration contain registration information going back to 1910.
Can the Secretary of State provide race, age and gender statistics for the voting population?
No. The Secretary of State compiles voter statistics by political party and jurisdictions. The state government does not collect voter race, voter age or voter gender data. You may wish to contact the Public Policy Institute of California or the United States Census Bureau for voter demographics.
How can I vote a vote-by-mail ballot?
Any registered voter may apply for a "vote-by-mail" ballot by:
- Completing the vote-by-mail ballot application that is included in your sample ballot, which your county elections official will mail to you prior to each election; or
- Downloading and completing a California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application from our website; or
- Contacting your county elections official to see if your county allows you to apply by telephone.
When may I apply for a vote-by-mail ballot?
If you apply by mail, your application must be received no later than 7 days before Election Day. Anytime after 7 days, you will need to apply in person at your county elections office to get a vote-by-mail ballot for that election.
How do I return my vote-by-mail application?
When mailing your completed vote-by-mail application, it should be delivered directly to your county elections office.
When is the last day to return my voted vote-by-mail ballot?
Vote-by-mail ballots that are personally delivered must be delivered no later than the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Vote-by-mail ballots that are mailed must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your county elections office no later than 3 days after Election Day. If you are not sure your vote-by-mail ballot will arrive in time if mailed, bring it to any polling place in your county between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
How do I turn in my vote-by-mail ballot on Election Day?
You may return it in person to any polling place in your county or to the county elections office on Election Day. If you are unable to return the ballot yourself, you may designate a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or a person residing in the same household to return the ballot to the elections official or the precinct board at any polling place within the jurisdiction. The ballot must be received by the elections official or the precinct board before the close of the polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.
Can anyone distribute vote-by-mail ballot applications?
People and organizations may distribute vote-by-mail ballot applications, provided they use the uniform format specified in the California Elections Code and submit a California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application.
Where is my polling place?
Your polling place location will be printed on the sample ballot you receive from your county elections official prior to an election. You may also contact your local county elections office for polling place information.
What hours are polling place locations open?
All polling place locations are open on Election Day from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
How do I find out what my legislative and congressional districts are?
You may contact your county elections official or visit the Secretary of State's "Who Are My Representatives?" page.
Why was my precinct/polling place changed?
Counties try to use the same polling place for each election, so your polling place normally does not change between the primary and the general elections. If the county is conducting smaller local elections where the turnout is likely to be lower, the county may consolidate precincts into fewer polling places.
You can always determine where your polling place is by looking at the back of your sample ballot, which you will receive from your county elections official. The back cover contains the name and address of your polling place. You can also call your county elections official, to find out where your polling place is located.
You also have the option of applying, to your county elections official, for permanent vote-by-mail voter status. For each election in which you are eligible to vote, your county elections official will automatically send you the appropriate ballot. All you will need to do is vote, provide the required information, and return the voted ballot to your county elections office by close of the polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. For more information on how to apply for permanent vote-by-mail voter status, please see our Permanent Vote-By-Mail Voting webpage.
Why am I in a mail ballot (vote-by-mail) precinct?
Elections Code section 3005 provides that people who live in precincts with fewer than 250 voters may be sent vote-by-mail ballots.
Upon receiving a vote-by-mail ballot, all you need to do is vote for the contests on the ballot, provide the required information, and mail the voted ballot back to your county elections office. It must be received in your county elections office by the close of the polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
If you cannot mail your voted vote-by-mail ballot to your county elections office, you can cast your voted ballot at any polling place in your county by the close of the polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. To determine the location of a nearby polling place, you can contact your county elections official.
Is there a toll-free telephone number I can call regarding voter information?
Yes. The Secretary of State has established a toll-free hotline for requests for voter registration forms and other election materials and to report suspicions of voting or registration irregularities. The number is (800) 345-VOTE.
Are election returns for state offices on your website?
The election results from past statewide elections can be found at Election Results.
What can be done to increase voter participation?
The Secretary of State's office has been working with a wide range of groups throughout the state to increase voter participation. We are always looking for better ways to reach out and engage citizens in the voting process. Our Voter Education and Outreach webpage will provide you with information on some of the programs and events we are currently working on.
What is a voter-nominated office?
The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which took effect January 1, 2011, created "voter-nominated" offices. The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committees, or local offices.
Most of the offices that were previously known as "partisan" are now known as "voter-nominated" offices. Voter-nominated offices are state constitutional offices, state legislative offices, and U.S. congressional offices. The only "partisan offices" now are the offices of U.S. President and county central committee.
How are primary elections conducted in California?
All candidates for voter-nominated offices are listed on one ballot and only the top two vote-getters in the primary election – regardless of party preference - move on to the general election. A write-in candidate will only move on to the general election if the candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election.
Prior to the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, the top vote-getter from each qualified political party, as well as any write-in candidate who received a certain percentage of votes, moved on to the general election.
The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not apply to candidates running for U.S. President, county central committee, or local office.
How are presidential primary elections conducted in California?
Qualified political parties in California may hold presidential primaries in one of two ways:
- Closed presidential primary - only voters indicating a preference for a party may vote for that party's presidential nominee.
- Modified-closed presidential primary - the party also allows voters who did not state a party preference to vote for that party's presidential nominee.
If a qualified political party chooses to hold a modified-closed presidential primary, the party must notify the California Secretary of State no later than the 135th day before Election Day.
What do party preferences mean when listed with candidates' names on the ballot? What are the qualified political parties and abbreviations of those party names?
The term "party preference" is now used in place of the term "party affiliation." A candidate must indicate his or her preference or lack of preference for a qualified political party. If the candidate has a qualified political party preference that qualified political party will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot. If a candidate does not have a party preference, "Party Preference: None" will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot.
Similarly, voters who were previously known as "decline-to-state" voters (because they did not have a party affiliation) are now known as having "no party preference" or known as "NPP" voters.
Abbreviations for the qualified political parties are:
- DEM = Democratic Party
- REP = Republican Party
- AI = American Independent Party
- GRN = Green Party
- LIB = Libertarian Party
- PF = Peace & Freedom Party
If a candidate receives a majority of the vote (50 percent+1) in the primary election, will there still be a general election?
Yes. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party preference or whether one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast in the primary election. Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote (50 percent + 1) in the primary election.
If there are only two candidates in the primary election, is a general election required?
Yes. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of candidate pool size, party preference, or whether one candidate receives the majority of all votes cast in the primary election. Only candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction or candidates for voter-nominated offices in special elections can win outright by getting a majority of the vote (50 percent + 1) in the primary election.
Which candidates can still run in the general election?
Candidates running for a voter-nominated office cannot run in the general election without having been one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election (see "What is a voter-nominated office?" above).
An exception is made if no candidate has been nominated at the primary election for a voter-nominated office. If this occurs, a candidate can use the independent nomination process to run in the general election.
Additionally, candidates running for the office of U.S. President, can run in the general election as either a Presidential Elector using the independent nomination process or a Presidential Elector write-in candidate.
For more information about running for office, see Candidate Resources.
Can independent or write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices run in the general election?
All candidates, including candidates who would have used the former independent nomination process, are allowed to run for a voter-nominated office in a primary election. All primary candidates for a voter-nominated office are listed on a single ballot, and only the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary election will move on to the general election.
However, if no candidate has been nominated at the primary election for a voter-nominated office, a candidate can use the independent nomination process to run in the general election.
Write-in candidates for voter-nominated offices cannot run in the general election, however, they can still run in the primary election. If a write-in candidate is one of the top two vote-getters in the primary election, the candidate can move on to the general election.
Candidates running for the office of U.S. President, can run in the general election as either a Presidential Elector using the independent nomination process or a Presidential Elector write-in candidate.
When is the deadline for initiatives, referenda, and legislative measures to qualify for the ballot and which election ballot will they appear on?
As a result of Senate Bill 202 (Chapter 558, Statutes of 2011), from July 2011 forward, initiative and referendum measures will only appear on general elections ballots.
Initiatives have to qualify 131 days before a general election. Referenda can qualify for the ballot up to 31 days before a general election.
Senate Bill 202 does not affect the placement of legislative measures on the ballot. Legislative measures can still appear on the ballot during any statewide election. Legislative measures must also be placed on the ballot 131 days before an election, unless the legislature passes legislation allowing a specific bill to be placed on the ballot after the 131 day deadline.
How and when are numbers assigned to state propositions?
State propositions are generally numbered between 131 and 105 days before an election and are numbered in 10-year cycles starting with the number "1," according to Elections Code section 13117. The current numbering cycle starts with the November 4, 2008, General Election.
How can I learn more about California's statewide initiative process?
The Secretary of State's Statewide Ballot Initiative Handbook contains some very useful information on this topic.
How many signatures does it take to qualify a statewide initiative?
The number of signatures required for initiative statutes must be equal to at least 5% of the total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election. The number of signatures required for initiative constitutional amendments must be equal to at least 8% of the total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election.
How many signatures does it take to qualify a statewide referendum?
The number of signatures required for referenda must be equal to at least 5% of the total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election.
Running for Office
What requirements must a person meet to run for office?
These requirements are specific to the office and are posted on our Candidate Information webpage.
When do candidates have to file their various official documents in order to become certified for the next statewide election cycle?
Please see our Candidate Information webpage for information on candidate filing deadlines.