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How to Register, Vote and Track Your Ballot in California

En español | California offers several ways to register to vote, including online, by email and regular mail, and in person.

The Nov. 8 general election will decide decided races for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, governor, the state Senate and Assembly, attorney general and other state offices.

Essential info:

  • Voting by mail: All registered voters will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot.
  • Early in-person voting: Some California counties offer early in-person voting up to 10 days before every election. Check with your county elections office to see if early in-person voting is an option.  
  • Voting at the polls: Find your polling place online on the state elections website. You may be asked to show an ID if you didn’t do so while registering to vote online. 
Californians Vote In Gubernatorial Recall Election
Voters exit a polling location in San Francisco.
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How do I register to vote?

  • Online: Use California’s online portal to register, check your registration status or change your party preference. Residents ages 16 and 17 can preregister to vote online. By doing so, they will be automatically registered upon their 18th birthday.
  • By mail and in person: You cannot download and print an online registration form from the California state elections website. But you can pick one up at your county elections office, most public libraries, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and U.S. post offices. Complete your application and mail it to your county elections office. It must be  postmarked or hand-delivered to your county elections office at least 15 days before Election Day. Eligible residents will be automatically registered to vote while obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or vehicle registration unless they choose to opt out.
  • By phone or email: Call 800-345-8683 or send an email to the California Elections Division to have a registration form mailed to you. 

If you miss the deadline, you can register conditionally (also known as same-day registration) and vote at your county elections office, polling place or county vote center. Your ballot will be counted after your county elections office completes the voter registration verification process.

Does my party preference matter when I vote?

It depends. For many primary elections, including races for governor and other state constitutional offices, state legislative offices and U.S. congressional offices, voters use the same ballot, regardless of party preference. The top two vote-getters in each race then move on to the general election.

But for presidential, county central committee and local office races, a political party can choose to close its ballot, only allowing voters who share that political party preference to participate. Or, a party may have a “modified-closed” primary, in which voters without a party preference may participate.

In the general election, voters use the same ballot, irrespective of party preference. To learn more about this process, call the California election’s office at 800-345-8683 or visit the primary section on the state elections website.

How can I get a vote-by-mail ballot? Are there important deadlines?

All registered voters will be sent a mail-in ballot by the state elections office before Election Day. If you don’t receive your vote-by-mail ballot or have lost or damaged your ballot and are unable to vote in person at the polls, you can request a replacement ballot online, by phone or in person.

Completed vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day. You can also drop off your ballot in person at any polling place, county vote center or ballot drop box, or at your county elections office between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Can I track my vote-by-mail ballot?

Use the state election office’s online tool to track your ballot.

Can I vote in person before Election Day?

This depends on the county. If you live in a Voter’s Choice Act county, you may start in-person voting up to 10 days before an election at a local vote center. Locations can be found along with polling places on the state elections website. At these centers, voters can drop off their ballot in person, get a replacement ballot, cast a ballot with a voting machine, register to vote or update an existing registration, and find voting material in multiple languages. Contact your county elections office to find out if early in-person voting is available in your county.

Information about vote center locations and ballot drop boxes is posted on the state elections website.

What do I need to know about voting at the polls on Election Day?

Find your polling place online at the California elections website. Check with your county elections office to confirm voting hours.

Do I need identification to vote at the polls?

Only those who didn’t provide a driver’s license number or state ID and/or the last four digits of your Social Security number while registering to vote online will need to show an approved form of ID on Election Day. Approved IDs include a state driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a state ID card, or a student identification card showing your name and photograph. A complete list of acceptable forms of ID is posted online at the state election’s website.

Editor’s note: This guide was updated on Nov. 14, 2022. The guide was first published on July 30, 2020. 

Also of Interest:

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