Mail-in ballots, later results: what's different about voting in the 2020 election?  A lot. cottonbro/Pexels
Mail-in ballots, later results: what's different about voting in the 2020 election? A lot. (cottonbro/Pexels)

What's Different About Voting in California This Year?

What's Different About Voting in California This Year?

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The COVID-19 pandemic means that there are several big changes to how you'll vote in the 2020 election — and honestly, there are some you might not be aware of at this stage.

Read on for a rundown of the major differences about voting this year.

Everyone's getting a mail-in ballot

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, if you're registered to vote you'll be receiving a mail-in ballot by default, without requesting it. Even if you're usually an absentee voter, you'll still be getting just that one mail-in ballot this year.

Remember: It'll be sent to the address at which you're registered to vote, so check that your address is correct. And if you're not already registered to vote, you can do it online until Oct. 19.

If you see information online about the deadline to request a mail-in ballot (Oct. 27), don't worry. That deadline is for requesting a new mail-in ballot — say, if you've made an error filling out the one you were already sent.

Everyone should bring their ballot along to vote in person

One big thing to know this year: if you decide you want to vote in person on Election Day itself, you should bring the ballot along with you.

Why? It's because people who opt to vote-by-mail always have to bring their ballot with them if they decide to vote in person, as proof they didn't already mail it and aren't therefore voting twice. It's just that this year, all registered voters in California are getting sent a ballot in the mail — i.e becoming mail-in voters by default, even without requesting it.

So what happens if you arrive at the polls without your ballot, because you forgot it? Or perhaps you're a student who doesn't live full-time at the address at which you're registered to vote, where the ballot was sent? Unhoused people or those who have no fixed address might also be affected by not being able to bring a ballot to the polls.

The good news: Without a ballot you can still vote in person, but you may be required to vote provisionally. A provisional vote is a vote that's subject to extra checks (i.e., that you're actually registered to vote in California, or that you didn't already complete and mail your ballot.) This extra layer of confirmation takes time, and therefore means your vote might not be counted on Election Day itself — although it'll eventually be counted.

Election 2020 is drawing closer. Get to know the crucial dates.
Election 2020 is drawing closer. Get to know the crucial dates. (cottonbro/Pexels)

If you didn't bring a ballot because you didn't actually register to vote, you can register via what's called Same Day Voter Registration (also known as Conditional Voter Registration.) If you're doing this on Election Day itself, you can register and vote at the same time at your polling place — find details of your polling place here.

If you're unhoused or have no fixed address, you can still register to vote by providing a description of the place where you spend most of your time if you don't have a street address, including cross streets. You can register to vote this way via online application — deadline October 19 — or on the paper voter registration application you can pick up at any Department of Motor Vehicles field office, or many post offices, public libraries, government offices or your county elections office by request. You can also do it on the day you vote in person, with Same Day Voter Registration.

If you have been displaced from your home by a wildfire and won't be able to access your ballot, you can fill out a one-time Vote-by-Mail Ballot Application and list a new mailing address where you'd like to receive your ballot for the November 2020 election.

Your ballot is being given more time to get there

We know folks have voiced concerns about how changes at the U.S. Postal Service might impact the delivery of completed mail-in ballots.

In California, your ballot must be postmarked on Election Day at the latest, but the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received has been extended to Nov. 20 from Nov. 6 — to allow your ballot extra time to reach your county elections office. You'll also be able to drop off your completed ballot by hand at any drop box, polling location or county elections office.


Voting in person will probably look different

You can still absolutely vote in person at the polls despite receiving your mail-in ballot (remember: bring it along), but the voting experience and your polling place may be very different because of the pandemic.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties are opening most locations for early voting from Saturday, October 31st to Monday, November 2nd.

Counties have been advised to maintain social distancing protocols and to have face coverings on hand for voters who don't have one.

Poll workers will also be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce their own risk. Some polling places may also be consolidated. More information should be coming as November draws closer.

Results will take longer than usual

The coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly increase the adoption of voting by mail this year. More mail-in ballots to count means a longer vote-counting process, and that means that close races might not be decided for days — or even weeks — after Election Day. This is also true for the presidential election.

At a time in which so much is in flux, it's important to remember that a longer vote count is expected and not a sign of fraud or error. It's happened as recently as 2018, when some California congressional races were not decided until weeks after Election Day, as mail ballots and provisional ballots were counted.

Tell us: what else do you want to know?