AARP AARP States California Voters

How to Vote in California’s 2020 Election: What You Need to Know

En Espanol | California made changes to both in-person and absentee balloting this year to address concerns about the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. California's voter information portal has more information about where to cast your ballot. Your polling place may be different this year, so check before you leave.
  • With Election Day only days away, consider dropping off your completed ballot in person. California election officials have been made aware of unofficial ballot drop boxes being set up in at least three counties. Be sure you place your ballot in an official drop box maintained by your county election office.
  • Be prepared for potentially long lines, and remember to take your mask and to follow social distancing measures at the polls.
  • You'll only need to bring photo identification if you didn't submit it — or the last four digits of your Social Security number — during online registration. Here’s a complete list of acceptable forms of ID.
A man walks out of an absentee voting station after voting

Here’s what else you need to know:

How do I register to vote?

You can register online, by mail or in person. You can apply online through the secretary of state's website — you'll need information from a California driver’s license or state ID card and the last four digits of your Social Security number. You can still register online if you don't have that documentation but you may have to show identification or proof of residency the first time you vote. The deadline to register online is Monday, Oct. 19.

You can also get a paper registration application at any Department of Motor Vehicles office and at many post offices, public libraries, and government offices — or request one from your county elections office. Or call the state’s toll-free voter hotline at 800-345-VOTE (8683) to have a registration application mailed to you.

Mail-in registrations must be postmarked by Oct. 19  or dropped off by that day date at DMV locations or county elections offices during normal business hours. From Tuesday, Oct. 20,  until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, Californians who still need to register or to update their registration must do so in person at vote centers and county elections offices.

You can check to see if you are registered online.

How can I get an absentee ballot? Are there important deadlines? 

Every registered California voter should receive an absentee ballot in the mail well before Election Day. Anyone who does not can request one by Oct. 27.

Any registered voter may apply for a vote-by-mail ballot by completing the application in their county voter information guide, which their county elections official will mail to them prior to each election. Or you can download and complete a vote-by-mail ballot application from the secretary of state’s website or contact your county elections official to see if you can apply over the phone.

You can mail your completed ballot to your county elections official or take it to the county official's office, a county drop box or a polling place. Vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3, Election Day, and received by your county elections office by Nov. 20. Hand-delivered ballots must arrive at your county elections official's office, a county drop box or a polling place by 8 p.m. on Election Day. You can ask someone else to return your ballot for you so long as the person is not getting paid on a per-ballot basis. 

How do I know my absentee ballot is secure?

Every county has a unique ballot design with specific paper types. Every mail-in ballot is checked by county elections officials before it's counted. And each vote-by-mail ballot return envelope comes with a unique postage-paid return envelope. County elections officials check that the voter didn’t already vote elsewhere. Officials also check the voter’s signature on the vote-by-mail return envelope with the signature on their registration record. If the signature is missing or does not match, the elections officials attempt to contact the voter. If the voter can’t provide a missing/updated signature, the ballot is not counted.

Californians can sign up to receive automatic updates on the status of their vote-by-mail ballots by text (SMS), email or voice call.

When is Election Day? When are polls open? 

Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Find your polling place on the secretary of state's website.

Can I vote before Election Day? 

Yes, beginning Monday, Oct. 5 in some counties. Additional in-person voting locations will be open through Election Day in the 15 counties that participate in the California Voter’s Choice Act and in counties that have consolidated voting locations.

What form of identification do I need to vote? 

Identification is not necessary on Election Day, unless you didn’t provide information from your driver’s license or state ID and/or the last four digits of your Social Security number during online registration. Then you’ll need some form of ID, which can be a driver’s license, passport, official state identification card, or student identification card showing your name and photograph. You can also use a recent utility bill or the sample ballot booklet you received from your county elections office. Here’s a complete list of acceptable forms of ID.

What is being done to make polling places safe from coronavirus? 

The California Department of Public Health and its Department of Health and Human Services have developed and issued COVID-19 safety and sanitation guidelines for in-person voting locations. Counties will be required to provide personal protective equipment to elections employees and workers. They also will have to make disposable face coverings available to voters and observers who arrive without them. Voters who show up at polling locations without a face covering may be asked to use a voting station with additional physical distancing to protect the safety of all voters and poll workers. 

Will I be able to vote in the same place I always have?

Not necessarily. Polling locations may be different than in past elections. Locations and hours will be included with ballots and other information mailed to registered voters. Or check the secretary of state's website or with your county elections office.

What are the key races in my state?

  • U.S. President
  • U.S. House: All 53 seats
  • California State Assembly: All 80 seats
  • California State Senate: 20 of 40 seats

This story was updated on Nov. 2 with new information about drop box availability. Voting rules and procedures may change before Election Day. We’ll update this story if they do, so bookmark this page and check back.


AARP is urging older Americans to ask the candidates 5 key questions:

  • Just over half of all older Social Security beneficiaries rely on the program for at least 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
  • Half of the people with traditional Medicare spend at least a sixth of their income on health care. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, as well as lower health care costs and ensure that older adults continue receiving the affordable health care they have earned?
  • COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure these citizens can access safe and affordable long-term care at home, as well as in facilities like nursing homes and assisted living?

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