Any registered voter may vote using a vote-by-mail ballot instead of going to the polls on Election Day. To request a vote-by-mail ballot for a single election or to request a vote-by-mail ballot for all elections (permanent vote-by-mail voting), follow the simple process described below.
- Register to Vote
- Apply to Vote By Mail
- Voting By Mail
- Permanent Vote-By-Mail Voting
- How to Cancel my Permanent Vote-By-Mail Status
- Military & Overseas Vote-By-Mail Voting
- Late Vote-By-Mail Applications
- Distributing Vote-By-Mail Applications
- Best Practices for Vote-By-Mail Envelope Design
- Historical Vote-By-Mail Ballot Statistics
Register to Vote
Before you may request a vote-by-mail ballot, you must be a registered voter. If you believe you are already registered, you can verify your registration online with our “My Voter Status” tool.
If you are not already registered, you can register online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. As part of registering to vote, you are given the option to become a “permanent vote-by-mail voter,” which means you would automatically receive a ballot in the mail before each election.
Apply to Vote By Mail
Registered voters may apply for a vote-by-mail ballot for an upcoming election at any time.
Apply by Mail
If you apply by mail, your application must be received no later than 7 days before Election Day.
You may use the application printed on the voter information guide that is mailed to you by your county elections official prior to every election. You may also visit or write to your county elections official for an application or you may use the California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application (PDF).
Before a presidential primary election, a No Party Preference (NPP) voter may use the California Vote-by-Mail application (PDF) to request the presidential ballot of a political party who is allowing voters to vote their party’s ballot. For more information visit our No Party Preference Information page.
After reading the instructions, type your information directly into the application, then print, sign, and date the application. Mail the completed application to your county elections office. Please do not mail it to the Secretary of State's office because this will delay receipt of your vote-by-mail ballot.
- California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application (English) (PDF)
Apply in Person
Any time after 7 days before Election Day, you will need to apply in person at your county elections office to request a vote-by-mail ballot for that election.
Apply by Telephone
Contact your county elections official to see if your county allows you to apply by telephone.
Voting By Mail
Once your application is processed by your county elections official, your ballot will be sent to you.
Any registered voter may vote using a vote-by-mail ballot instead of going to the polls on Election Day.
After you have voted, insert your ballot in the envelope provided, making sure you complete all required information on the envelope.
You may return your voted ballot by
- mailing it to your county elections official;
- 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 the state between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
- returning it in person to a polling place or the office of your county elections official;
- 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.
- dropping your ballot into one of your county’s ballot drop boxes; or
- Vote-by-mail ballots that are personally delivered to a ballot drop-off location must be delivered no later than the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
- authorizing someone to return the ballot on your behalf.
- Anyone may return your ballot for you, as long as they do not get paid on a per ballot basis. In order for your ballot to be counted, you must fill out the authorization section found on the outside of your ballot envelope.
When your vote-by-mail ballot is received by your county elections official, your signature on the return envelope will be compared to the signature on your voter registration card to ensure they match. To preserve the secrecy of your ballot, the ballot will then be separated from the envelope, and then it will be tallied.
All valid vote-by-mail ballots are counted in every election in California, regardless of the outcome or closeness of any race. For additional information on how and when ballots are verified and tabulated, please visit our description of how the official canvass of the vote is completed.
Voting for the First Time
When you registered to vote, you were asked to fill in your driver license number, California identification number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you did not include this information when you registered, send a photocopy of some personal identification with your Vote-by-Mail Application or to your county elections official before the election.
A copy of a recent utility bill, the county Voter Information Guide you received from your county elections office, or another document sent to you by a government agency are examples of acceptable forms of identification. Other examples include your passport, driver license, official California identification card, or student identification card.
If your identity cannot be verified, then your Vote-by-Mail ballot envelope will not be opened.
For more information on identification to use when you vote for the first time, check the complete list of acceptable forms of identification (PDF) or call the Secretary of State's toll-free voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).
Status of your Vote-By-Mail Ballot
California Elections Code section 3017(c) requires county elections officials to establish procedures to track and confirm the receipt of voted vote-by-mail ballots and to make this information available by means of an online access system using the county's elections division web site or via a toll-free telephone number.
You may also check the status of your ballot by visiting, “My Voter Status.”
Where's My Ballot
The California Secretary of State is now offering Where’s My Ballot?—a new way for voters to track and receive notiﬁcations on the status of their vote-by-mail ballot. Powered by BallotTrax, Where’s My Ballot? lets voters know where their ballot is, and its status, every step of the way.
A voter who has signed up will receive notices via email, text, or voice message from the county elections official regarding the status of the voter's vote-by-mail ballot including:
- When the ballot has been delivered
- The date that the voter's ballot is expected to be delivered to the voter
- If the voter's ballot is returned as undeliverable to the county elections official by the USPS
- When the voter's completed ballot has been received by the county
- Whether the voter's completed ballot has been accepted or a reason why the ballot could not be accepted and instructions of steps the voter can take in order to have the ballot accepted
- The deadline for the voter to return his or her ballot if the county has not received a voter's completed ballot by specified dates as determined by the county elections official
Sign-up at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to receive automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notiﬁcations about your ballot.
The following counties are now offering Where’s My Ballot?:
Amador, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sutter, Tehama, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, Yuba.
Permanent Vote-By-Mail Voting
Any registered voter may become a permanent vote-by-mail voter. As a permanent vote-by-mail voter, you will automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot for each election. To become a permanent vote-by-mail voter, you must complete an application, which is available from your county elections official, or you may use on of the following Vote-By-Mail applications:
- California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application (English) (PDF)
Your permanent vote-by-mail status will only end if you do not vote in four consecutive statewide general elections.
If you are currently registered to vote as a permanent vote-by-mail voter and would like to cancel your permanent vote-by-mail status, you can complete the California Permanent Vote-By-Mail Status Form (PDF) and submit it to your county elections office. If you have any questions, you can contact your county elections office or the Secretary of State's Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683). Please note that if you live in a county that is participating in the Voter’s Choice Act (Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo) you will be mailed a ballot for all elections.
Military & Overseas Vote-By-Mail Voting
As a military or overseas voter, in order to receive your election materials and vote when you are absent from your county while serving and/or living overseas, you need to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot by completing the online voter registration application or by completing the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). The FPCA is available from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
For additional information, please visit our Military and Overseas Voting Information section.
California Late Vote-by-Mail Ballot Application
If you are unable to vote in person at the polls and you do not have a vote-by-mail ballot, you may apply in writing for a late vote-by-mail ballot. This application will need to be provided in person to the county elections official by you or your representative. (Elec. Code, § 3021.)
Once you mark your ballot, fill out and sign the envelope, you can personally or through your authorized representative, submit your ballot either to your elections official or any polling place within your jurisdiction.
The California Late Vote-by-Mail Ballot Application Form can be found here:
- English (PDF)
- Spanish (PDF)
- Chinese (PDF)
- Hindi (PDF)
- Japanese (PDF)
- Khmer (PDF)
- Korean (PDF)
- Tagalog (PDF)
- Thai (PDF)
- Vietnamese (PDF)
Distributing Vote-By-Mail Applications
The Secretary of State's Guide for Conducting a Vote-By-Mail Application Drive is designed to help political parties, vote-by-mail registration drive coordinators, petition management companies, and professional and volunteer circulators understand their responsibilities and requirements when helping people apply to vote by mail in California.
The Guide contains the uniform statewide California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application (PDF). Applications used by people, groups, or organizations must use the required format or they may be deemed to be invalid.
Please follow the Instructions for Completing a California Vote-By-Mail Ballot Application (PDF) to ensure the application is completed correctly.
Please do not return applications to the Secretary of State's office. Applications must be returned to the elections official of the county where the applicant lives.
If you have any questions regarding these forms, please contact the Secretary of State's Voter Services Unit.
As election officials for the November 3, 2020, General Election, and the increased usage of vote by mail ballots in California, the Center for Civic Design has consulted with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to complete a review of the universal vote-by-mail envelope package that was first launched in 2018. During that consultation, the Center for Civic Design identified several changes to better meet service guidelines and ensure that vote by mail ballots are successfully delivered. Utilizing these uniform guidelines can assist in statewide voter education efforts, ensure voters receive their materials timely, and aid voters in understanding the materials that are sent to them. As many voters will experience voting by mail for the first time, the Secretary of State’s office encourages counties to utilize the resources provided by the Center for Civic Design to assist in a successful rollout of increased vote-by-mail voting.
The Center for Civic Design has provided updated USPS templates (PDF), InDesign templates of the outgoing (ZIP) and return (ZIP) envelopes, and an updated informational USPS flyer (PDF) for counties to use in implementing this updated universal design. They have also provided sample voter information inserts (PDF) to use in county vote-by-mail packages and an updated color palette (PDF). You may find these updated templates and more by visiting the Center for Civic Design's website.
The Secretary of State maintains the following historical statistics for vote-by-mail usage:
- Historical Vote-By-Mail (Absentee) Ballot Use in California
- Registered Permanent Vote-By-Mail Statistics 1992 to 2020* (XLS)
- Vote-By-Mail Statistics 2003 to 2020* (XLS)
*Please note the individual county elections offices provided these numbers. Because not all counties provided information, no complete statewide data is available.