Voting on Election Day used to be a matter of merely showing up at a polling location and casting a ballot. But in a year that has been anything but ordinary, with the COVID pandemic and fears about the U.S. Postal Service, this November’s election has many voters on edge. The good news is that Californians have more ways to cast their ballots than ever before. The bad news is that it can be confusing to decipher how it all works. To help you understand how California is handling the November 3, 2020, General Election, Spectrum News 1 has created the following guide.

What is different about Election Day in 2020 compared with prior years?

The biggest change in California is that every active registered voter will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot, and those vote-by-mail ballots will be accepted by county elections officials for 17 days after the election (as long as they are postmarked by November 3). This November’s election is also the first presidential contest for which same-day voter registration is allowed at every polling location statewide.

Voters can cast their ballots in person, by mail, or through a ballot box. If I go in person, how do I know where to vote?

In-person polling locations may be different this year because many counties are consolidating their precincts. Voters in some counties, including Los Angeles and Orange Counties, will be able to vote in person at any vote center; they do not need to go to an assigned spot. In-person voters in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, however, will need to go to their assigned polling location. The California Secretary of State has created a polling place look-up tool that will be activated in early October ( Voters’ in-person polling location will also be provided on the county voter information guide they receive in the mail. If a voter decides to vote in person, it is highly recommended that they bring their vote-by-mail ballot to the polls to surrender their ballot to a poll worker.

When can registered voters expect to receive their mail-in ballots?

Counties will begin sending vote-by-mail ballots by October 5. Beginning that date, any registered voter can also go to a county elections office in person to cast their ballot in person.

With the recent changes to the U.S. Postal Service, many voters are concerned that if they do mail their ballots, they will not be counted. How is California addressing that concern?

All vote-by-mail ballot return envelopes have prepaid first-class postage and are identified as election mail. The U.S. Postal Service is required to deliver it within two to five business days of the ballot being put in the mail. For a vote-by-mail ballot to count, it needs to be postmarked by November 3. California has extended the time period that mail-in ballots can be received, and still counted, by elections officials to 17 days after the election, so if it is received by November 20 it will be processed and counted.

Do I need to put a stamp on my vote-by-mail ballot?

No. The vote-by-mail ballot envelope has prepaid first-class postage to return it without adding a postage stamp.

Do vote-by-mail ballots have to be mailed?

No. Most California counties will have secure ballot drop boxes that are monitored by county elections officials. It is county elections officials who take the ballots out of the boxes and transfer them directly to the county for counting for processing. Vote-by-mail ballots can also be returned to any polling location in the state and placed in a ballot drop box. Make sure that the ballot is sealed and signed before placing it in the box. Ballots returned at a secure ballot drop box must be deposited by 8 p.m. November 3.

When are polls open?

On Election Day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone who is standing in line when the polling location is closing will still be allowed to cast a ballot.

If I don’t vote by mail, can I still vote earlier than November 3?

Early voting locations will be available in many California counties for at least four days, beginning the Saturday before November 3. Those voting locations will offer voter registration, replacement ballots, accessible voting machines, and language assistance.

Starting October 5, all county elections offices will also be early voting locations for voters to cast a ballot in person or to drop off a completed, sealed, and signed vote-by-mail ballot.

Are all the votes counted, regardless of whether a person votes in person, by mail, or through a ballot drop box, or are some only counted in a tight race?

All ballots that are cast are processed and counted, including provisional ballots cast by voters who believe they are registered to vote even though their names are not on the official voter registration list at their polling place. Every ballot is carefully checked and processed by county elections officials.

Is there a way for me to track my vote?

Yes. Every registered voter can sign up to receive vote-by-mail ballot tracking by text, email, or voice call. Voters can sign up at

When is the last day to register to vote?

Online, the last day to register is October 19. From October 20 through November 3, eligible voters can still cast a ballot with same-day voter registration at any polling location, including early voting sites and county elections offices.

Considering COVID, what is the safest way to vote this year?

The Secretary of State recommends voting by mail because it will reduce the number of people going to polling locations, allowing for social distancing and the increased health and safety of voters and poll workers.

What are the sanitation protocols for polling sites this year?

The Secretary of State developed guidelines in partnership with the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Health and Human Services to follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. All voting and check-in stations and other stopping points will be separated by at least six feet, with partitions, floor markings, and signs reminding voters to stay at a safe distance. The state recommends that counties deep clean their voting locations before, during, and after the election. Counties will make disposable face coverings available to voters who arrive without them.

Do I need to wear a mask if I vote in person?

Following guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Secretary of State recommends that voters wear a face covering while at the voting location and also keep two arms’ length distance from other people. It also suggests washing hands before and after entering the voting location and using hand sanitizer after touching doors or voting equipment. To avoid touching high-contact surfaces, it further suggests bringing your own ballpoint pen.

What if I have a question you haven’t answered? Where can I find more information? Is there a live human being I can contact?

Yes. You can go to or call the California Secretary of State’s office toll free at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).