California Primary Election 2022 FAQ: From When to Vote to How to Fix a Ballot Mistake

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Two pieces of paper and a pen sitting on a dark wooden table. One piece of paper is on top of another. The envelope on the bottom is purple on the left side, and says "Ballot Return Envelope." The paper on top says "Official Ballot" in all caps.
A San Francisco official mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3, 2020, election. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Leer en español.

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.

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When is the California primary election?

Election Day 2022 is Tuesday, June 7.

However, with vote-by-mail and early voting, you don't have to vote on Election Day itself. Plus: We're still in a pandemic, so some people may feel safer not voting in person.

So it's helpful to think of June 7 as your last day to vote in this election — rather than necessarily the day you should vote.

Will I be sent a mail-in ballot? 

Yes. California's universal vote-by-mail law is now permanent, meaning all voters will receive a ballot in the mail in all current and future elections, by default.

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).

Read more about the changes for counties that have adopted the Voters Choice model.

Dax Strane drops off his mail-in ballot at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters in Oakland on Oct. 27, 2020. Alameda was one of the dozens of counties that consolidated voting locations in 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

I'm not registered to vote. When's the deadline?

May 23 is your official deadline to register online to vote in the June primary.

You can register online, check your registration status, or preregister (for those age 16 or 17) at the secretary of state's website.

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.

Not sure if you're already registered to vote or can't remember which party preference you already have? Check your voter registration details.

And even if you know you're registered to vote, you should double-check the address on your registration. That's where your mail ballot will be sent, so if you've moved recently, you want to be sure to update your address.

What if I missed the registration deadline?

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.

My ballot hasn't arrived. What do I do?

If you aren't registered to vote in California, you won't be sent a ballot automatically. If you register online to vote in the June primary before the deadline of May 23, a ballot will be sent out to you.

If you are registered to vote but haven't received a ballot, it's possible your ballot was mailed to the wrong address.

Check your registration details and address. If they're incorrect, update them ASAP before the voter registration deadline of May 23, 15 days before Election Day (June 7). Your county election's office will then cancel any previous ballot mailed out so it won't be counted, and send you a new 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.

Bei Kao holds her "I Voted" sticker after voting in Oakland on Oct. 27, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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:

  1. Visit the State of California lookup tool.
  2. Enter your county — adding your city or ZIP code will give more localized results, but it's optional.
  3. Check the "Early Voting" and/or "Drop Off Location" boxes.
  4. 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.

How can I track my ballot once I've returned it?

All registered voters in California can sign up for an online tool to track the status of their mail-in ballots for the November general election.

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.

A voter's hand drops a completed Election 2020 ballot into a secure drop box as a poll worker watches
A voter drops off a ballot at a new outdoor voting center near Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco on Oct. 5, 2020, the first day of early voting. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Find your county's info on marking your ballot:

San Francisco| Alameda| Santa ClaraContra Costa| SolanoSan MateoMarinNapa | Sonoma 

If you're worried that you've made your choice too confusing by correcting your mistake, you can:

  • Call your county elections office and ask them to cancel that ballot and issue a new one to you.
  • Go to your county elections office with your spoiled ballot and vote right there at the counter during business hours.
  • Take advantage of the early voting options available in many counties.
  • 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.

To further set your mind at rest, know that California isn't an "exact match" state, and doesn't demand voters' signatures 100% replicate the signature that's on file. We've got even more information about signature matching here in this 2020 story.

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.

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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.

But last year, the state Legislature passed a bill (signed by Newsom) to require that any vacant Senate seat be voted on in the next scheduled primary election.

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.

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