Guide to Voter Registration Drives

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The Secretary of State's Guide to Voter Registration Drives is designed to help political parties, voter registration drive coordinators, petition management companies, circulators, and volunteers understand their responsibilities and requirements when helping people register to vote.

This Guide is designed to reflect all current laws, regulations and rules that pertain to voter registration, but it does not have the force and effect of law, regulation or rule. Therefore, in the unlikely event there is a conflict between the Guide and a law, regulation or rule, the law, regulation or rule shall take precedence.

The Secretary of State's Election Fraud Investigation Unit vigorously pursues possible violations of the California Elections Code and Penal Code relating to election, voter registration, petition, and voter fraud. The Unit has the authority to investigate all possible Elections Code related violations, but must turn its findings over to the Attorney General or local district attorney for possible prosecution of any case.

If you witness activity that you suspect may be improper or illegal or if you have questions, please contact the Secretary of State's Elections Division at (916) 657-2166.

Revised March 2013

Chapter I. Planning A Voter Registration Drive

Contact Your Local Elections Office

Planning is the first step of a successful voter registration drive. Your county elections office can provide you with the materials you need to get started, as well as offer advice about how to conduct a successful registration drive. Please refer to the Secretary of State's website for a list of county elections offices.

Develop a Plan

After consulting with your county elections office and getting the appropriate materials, you may wish to gather important data. While it is possible to distribute voter registration cards at any location, you may wish to develop a plan to reach the largest number of unregistered citizens in your area.

Two questions you may wish to ask to help you develop a plan include:

Information to help you answer these questions is available from various census publications and from the United States Census Bureau. Congressional district, city, and state information can be found in the Guide to State and Local Census Geography. These publications also may be available at your local library.

Answering these questions will help you define the scope of your voter registration drive, as well as identify the resources you will need to meet your goals. It may also make the way you approach your efforts more effective and your drive more successful.

Distribution Form

Any person, group or organization requesting more than 50 voter registration cards from a county elections official or the Secretary of State's office must complete a distribution form and state the distribution plan on the form. The distribution plan should describe how the drive will be organized, what groups will be targeted, what methods will be used to distribute cards, and an acknowledgement that organizers know and will follow the laws and rules relating to voter registration. (California Code of Regulations, title 2, § 20001(g).)

A Voter Registration Card Statement of Distribution form is available on the Secretary of State's website and in Appendix A.

Paying People to Register Citizens to Vote

Elections Code section 2159.5 states that any person, company, or organization that is paying people to help register citizens to vote must:

Failure to comply with any of these requirements is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by up to one year in jail. The fine and imprisonment time increase upon a third or subsequent conviction. (Elections Code § 18108.5.)

As a registration drive organizer, you should be mindful of the potential for voter registration fraud. A list of possible voter registration fraud indicators can be found in Appendix C. Please contact the Secretary of State's Elections Division at (916) 657-2166 for more information.

Chapter II. Training Your Team

Training Is Important!

It is critical that everyone working or volunteering for you understands the procedures and laws relating to voter registration. Before being sent out to register people to vote, be certain that each person knows the eligibility requirements for registration and how important it is for registrants to correctly complete the voter registration card.

If your workers or volunteers give out incorrect information, they and you, as the drive organizer, may inadvertently deny a qualified citizen the ability to register to vote or register a person who is not qualified to register to vote. There are criminal penalties for intentionally denying qualified citizens the opportunity to register to vote or for registering someone to vote who is not eligible to register to vote.

Please have your workers or volunteers review this Guide, especially the section "Who Can Register to Vote in California?," as well as the Secretary of State's Frequently Asked Questions.

Voter Registration Card (VRC) - The Basics of Voter Registration

Filling Out a VRC

Chapter III. Penalties for Failing to Comply with Voter Registration Requirements

Penalties for the Voter

There are many rights and responsibilities associated with registering to vote. A misuse of those rights and responsibilities can result in criminal fines and penalties.

Penalties for the Person Registering Voters

There are also penalties associated with violating laws pertaining to the registration of voters.

Appendix A - Voter Registration Card Statement of Distribution

Appendix B - Sample Statement of Circulator's Responsibilities and Liabilities

Appendix C - Possible Voter Registration Fraud Indicators

As a registration drive organizer, you should be mindful of fraudulent voter registration issues. The following list sets forth a number of different areas where fraud could be present; however, any observations of problems or inconsistency in these areas do not conclusively indicate the presence of fraud.

Appendix D - Voter Registration - Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to register to vote?

Anyone can register to vote if they are:

Must a person provide identification when registering to vote?

When is the last day to register to vote for an election?

A person must submit a completed and signed voter registration card to their county elections office no less than 15 days before an election to be eligible to vote in that election.

Can inmates register and vote?

A person who is convicted of a felony loses the right to register and vote while they are 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. Once their prison term or county jail term (for serving a state prison sentence or a felony sentence under Penal Code section 1170(h)) and parole period, mandatory supervision, or post release community supervision (if they have one) is completed, the person's ability to vote (if they were previously registered) or to register and vote is restored. 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.

When must a voter re-register to vote?

A voter must re-register to vote:

Upon re-registration, Item 16 of the voter registration card must be completed with the voter's previous registration information.

If a voter just moved within their county, do they need to re-register to vote?

If a voter moved to a new address within the same county, they can either re-register to vote or they can update their registration with a written notice to their county elections official.

If a voter did not vote in the last election do they need to re-register?

No. In general, a voter is registered for as long as the voter lives at the same address. However, if a voter has not voted in the last several elections, they may be sent a request to confirm that they have not moved.

If a person does not vote in a primary election, will they be able to vote in the following general election?


If a voter is away at school, what address (college or parents') can they use?

A voter may use whichever address they consider to be their domicile, but not both.

If a person is on parole, mandatory supervision, or post-release community supervision can they register to vote?

No. The person can register to vote when their parole period, mandatory supervision, or post-release community supervision is completed.

If a wife's husband is out of town but he needs to register, may the wife register him?

No. He must sign the card himself, under penalty of perjury. He can complete the voter registration card and mail it from wherever he is. He may also register online at the Secretary of State's website.

If a voter registers to vote can the voter be called for jury duty?

Jury duty lists are compiled from a variety of sources, including the Department of Motor Vehicles records and the voter registration file.

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