California voters soon will begin casting ballots in the state's June 7 primary.
What's at stake? Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla are up for reelection, along with the rest of California's statewide offices. In San Francisco, District Attorney Chesa Boudin is facing a recall. And voters in the Bay Area will decide on dozens of local measures.
If you're a California voter, a ballot is already on its way to your mailbox — and in-person voting begins next Monday, May 9.
Keep reading for what you need to know about voting in the upcoming California primary election.
Mail-in ballots come with prepaid postage, and can be returned via the U.S. Postal Service or in an official ballot drop box.
The deadline for counties to begin mailing out ballots is May 9, although some counties likely will get a head start and send out ballots this week.
Can I still vote in person?
Yes. But depending on which county you live in, you'll either be assigned to a specific polling place or have the option of voting at a regional voting center.
California's Voter's Choice Act gives, in the state's words, "greater flexibility and convenience for voters" in the counties that choose to adopt it. And in this election, Alameda, Marin and Sonoma are joining Napa, San Mateo and Santa Clara as Bay Area counties that have adopted the Voter's Choice Act model.
These counties will open voting centers — larger buildings with enhanced language and disability access — beginning on May 28. So if you live in Alameda, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, San Mateo or Santa Clara counties, you can drop off your ballot or choose to vote in person at any voting center in the county.
Contra Costa, San Francisco and Solano counties use the traditional polling place model, which assigns voters to a specific voting location on Election Day.
And every county offers limited early voting beginning on May 9 at its Registrar of Voters offices (or, in San Francisco, at City Hall).
Remember: If you've changed either your name or the address you previously registered to vote with, you'll need to reregister. If you're age 16 or 17, you can preregister at the same place: the secretary of state's website.
Before May 23, you also can register in person by grabbing a paper voter registration application at your county elections office or the Department of Motor Vehicles. But if you want to mail in your voter registration, your request must be postmarked by the same date as the online registration deadline: May 23.
If you missed the deadline to register to vote, or need to update your registration info, don't panic. You can still sign up to cast a ballot or reregister via conditional voter registration (also known as same-day registration).
To do this, head to any voting location for same-day registration. You'll be asked to fill out your info and then cast a provisional ballot. Once election officials have processed your registration — they'll check that you're eligible to vote, and make sure you haven't already voted in another county — they will process and count your ballot.
If it's after May 23, you can get a fresh ballot in person. In those Voter's Choice Act counties of Alameda, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, San Mateo and Santa Clara, you can show up to any voting location and receive a new ballot. Election officials will "cancel" your lost ballot in real time, to prevent anyone else from casting it.
In other counties, you may be asked to cast a provisional ballot, which election officials will count once they determine that your lost ballot wasn't also cast.
What if I use assistive technology to complete forms?
Remember: Getting physical assistance with filling out your ballot from someone you trust is always fine, whether you're voting at home or at a voting site. You just need to make sure your signature is your own, and matches the one you're registered to vote with.
Disabled voters also can choose to use the remote accessible vote-by-mail (RAVBM) system to vote privately and independently at home, using their usual assistive device on their home computer to fill out the ballot on their screen and then print and mail it.
Also, every voting location in California is equipped with an accessible voting unit. Here, voters who are blind, have limited vision, or have a disability that limits their dexterity will be able to use the assistive device of their choice, allowing them to vote privately and independently.
How do I find my early voting site or ballot drop-off location?
Before you return your ballot, check:
Have you clearly corrected any mistakes?
Have you signed the envelope?
Does your signature match the one you're registered with?
Have you put your ballot in the envelope?
Ballots then can be returned through the Postal Service (the return postage is already paid) or dropped off at a voting location or in a ballot drop box. To find your nearest ballot drop-off location or early voting site:
Enter your county — adding your city or ZIP code will give more localized results, but it's optional.
Check the "Early Voting" and/or "Drop Off Location" boxes.
Hit "Search" to see all the early voting and drop-off locations in that specified area
If you are returning your ballot on Election Day, keep in mind that the Postal Service must postmark your ballot envelope that day for your vote to count. As long as the ballot envelope reaches your county election office within one week, your vote will count.
If it's getting late in the day on June 7, you might consider using a county drop box instead of a mailbox. While many U.S. Postal Service mailboxes have a last collection at 5 p.m., any ballot returned to a drop box or voting location by 8 p.m. will be counted.
If you sign up for the "Where's My Ballot?" system, you can receive automated notifications via email, text or phone when your county elections offices have mailed out your ballot — and when your completed ballot has been received and processed.
What if I make a mistake on my ballot?
Some counties will provide written instructions on how to correct a mistake on your ballot, such as voting for a candidate you didn't intend to. But if you clearly mark your intended choice — say, by x-ing out your mistake — your vote can still be counted.
California's official voting regulations say that "if the voter's choice(s) can be determined, the ballot shall be duplicated ... to reflect the voter's choices and processed as if cast by the voter." This means election workers will create a copy of your original ballot so that it can be read by a tabulating machine.
Go to a voting site on Election Day, turn in your spoiled ballot there and get a new ballot.
How do I avoid issues with my ballot signature?
Signing your ballot envelope is the modern-day version of pulling the lever inside a voting booth: It's the crucial last step to getting your vote counted.
Your ballot will not be counted if the envelope is unsigned, or if the signature doesn't match the signature in your voter registration file.
It's possible your signature has changed since you registered. Or, if you registered at the DMV, the signature you scrawled on the stylus doesn't neatly match your typical John Hancock.
One way to avoid a signature-match issue is to check the signature pictured on the front of your driver's license or state ID. That's typically what your county elections office has on file.
Rest assured, issues with ballot envelope signatures can be fixed after you have sent in your ballot — even after Election Day. As long as you have voted on time, county election officials can work to "cure" your ballot. This typically means they will reach out to you by mail to correct a missing or mismatched signature. You can also find out about signature issues through the ballot-tracking tool.
Lastly, here at KQED we've had several audience questions over the years asking whether the date required on the signature section should be the date you signed your ballot, or your birth date. It's the first one: the date you signed it.
Why are there two elections for the same Senate seat on my ballot?
Notice two elections on your ballot for the Senate seat currently held by Alex Padilla? That's not a misprint.
Padilla took office in January of 2021, after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him to replace Kamala Harris, who was elected vice president. With Harris's term set to end in early 2023, Padilla was already scheduled to face voters this year for a full six-year term.
That means voters will now make their picks in two Senate primaries. The top two finishers in the partial-term election will face off in November, and the winner will serve in office for a few weeks — from when election results are certified, to the end of the current term in January.
The top two finishers in the full-term primary also will face off in November, with the victor taking office in January and serving through the beginning of 2029.