Emergency Situations That May
Affect the Conduct of Elections in California

Revised October 2014

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In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency that may affect the ability to conduct an election in compliance with state law, there are legal options California elections officials and the Governor can exercise.

The following information does not replace any existing emergency or disaster plans already established by the State and county elections officials. Rather, it is a menu of election-related actions that can be taken depending on the circumstances of a particular natural disaster or other emergency. In any emergency situation, it is vital that the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Legislature, local elections officials, and the public communicate clearly and frequently.

A. Actions Permitted Under Existing Law

The California Elections Code gives local elections officials and voters some flexibility should an issue arise shortly before or on Election Day.

B. Actions Not Permitted Under Current Law

Under Government Code section 8571, the Governor has the authority to declare a state of emergency and issue an executive order waiving or suspending certain laws.

Government Code section 8567 authorizes the Governor during a declared state of emergency to make, amend, and rescind orders and regulations that have the force of law necessary to carry out a State Emergency Plan.

Following are the most likely election scenarios during an emergency or disaster, and the laws the Governor may wish to waive or suspend.

1. Extend Voting Times and Accept Ballots After the Deadline

If a polling place must be moved using existing law, voting hours may need to be extended, which would require either a gubernatorial executive order or a court order.

If voting hours are extended by a court order, Elections Code section 14402.5 requires that all votes after 8:00 p.m. be cast on provisional ballots. If there is a statewide court order, the Governor may waive the provisional ballot requirement for votes cast after 8:00 p.m.

If the Governor wants to extend voting hours or accept vote-by-mail ballots beyond 8:00 p.m. on Election Day without a court order, the following laws may need to be waived or suspended.

2. Permit Out-of-County Voting

If the Governor wants to allow voters to return vote-by-mail ballots or to cast ballots outside of the county where they are registered to vote, the following laws may need to be waived or suspended.

3. Require the Election to be Conducted Entirely by Mail

If the Governor wants to eliminate polling places altogether and conduct the entire election by mail, the following laws would need to be amended by the Legislature.

Elections Code section 4100 through 4108 provide the procedures for conducting an all-vote-by-mail election. These sections can be used as a model to establish a statewide all-vote-by-mail election.

4. Cancel and Reschedule the Election

In the case of emergency or disaster, Government Code section 8571 gives the Governor the power to cancel and reschedule an election.

To reschedule an election, the Governor would need to waive Elections Code section 12000 and establish a new election date.

Elections Code section 15101 permits elections officials to begin processing vote-by-mail ballots seven business days before Election Day. If the election might be cancelled, it is advisable that this law be waived at least seven business days before Election Day to ensure that vote-by-mail ballots that have already been cast are not prematurely counted and reported.

5. Close the Polls and Transport Ballots

The following Elections Code sections set procedures that must begin upon the closure of polls. County elections officials have procedures for returning ballots and polling place supplies in the event of an emergency or disaster. If these procedures cannot be followed at the time polls close, the following laws may need to be waived or suspended.

6. Change the Canvass Procedures

Elections Code section 15150 requires county elections officials to begin the semifinal official canvass as soon as the polls close. In the event of an emergency or disaster during the seven days before the election or on Election Day, Elections Code section 15101 may also need to be waived.

If the official canvass and transmission of results have begun pursuant to Elections Code § 15150 and 15151, then the following laws may need to be waived or suspended:

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