If you’re on social media, you may be worried right now about being turned away at the polls, or your vote-by-mail ballot being rejected, or ending up at a place that won’t let you vote. We’re hoping California doesn’t have those horror stories … but we’ve got some tips to help you avoid even getting into those situations. And the best news is, many of these are things you can do NOW, before the November 6 Election Day!
Provisional Ballot: a last resort
Lots of people are giving advice on social media about how to demand a provisional ballot: “Give me a provisional ballot with a receipt as required by law when requested.” It’s true that in California and most other states poll workers must give you a provisional ballot and receipt if you believe you’re entitled to vote, but for a variety of reasons the workers believe you are not. It’s also true that this is a last resort, that many of the reasons a poll worker may try to turn you away can be addressed, and that some issues can even be taken care of NOW, before Election Day, to prevent most problems.
- Are you registered to vote? Is all your info correct? Check NOW!
- Check your polling place NOW! Make sure you go to the right place to vote – if you’re at the wrong polling place, your name won’t be on the voter list. If you do end up at the wrong place, before you ask for a provisional ballot, ask where your correct polling place is. Go vote there if you can make it before the polls close so you can vote on all your local measures. If you can’t figure it out or can’t get there, then ask for a provisional ballot and receipt.
- Did you get a vote by mail ballot in the mail, but you didn’t mail it in? You can drop it off at your polling place on Election Day. You decided you want to vote at the polls instead? You should be able to do that if you bring your vote by mail ballot and envelope: they’ll probably ask you to surrender the vote by mail ballot and give you a new one. Don’t have your ballot with you? That’s when you ask for a provisional ballot.
- Worried you’ll be told you don’t have the right ID to vote? You usually won’t be asked to show ID, although you might be if it’s your first time voting in a federal election in California. And it’s a good idea to bring ID with you anyway. Here’s more info; here’s the complete list for first-time voters; or you can call the Secretary of State’s toll-free voter hotline at 800-345-VOTE (8683).
Did you forget to register to vote, or did you move and forget to re-register? Little-known fact: you can still register and vote conditionally at your county elections office, or at certain other locations, up through Election Day. Conditional voting is different from provisional voting, since provisional voting is for people who believe they are registered but are having problems.
Vote-by-mail ballots not secretly rejected
Worried because you’ve heard that in some states, untrained people are rejecting vote by mail ballots because the signature on the envelope doesn’t match the one on file? No fear – that won’t happen in California. By law, you must be notified and given the chance to correct or acknowledge your ballot signature if there is any discrepancy. (And in Alameda County at least, they don’t use untrained people, they have trained folks whose specific job this is – we were told that if there’s something distinctive about your signature that’s common between the two samples, they won’t reject the ballot.)
Skip the lines, vote early
Early voting has started in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Check with your county for deadlines, locations, and specific guidelines — generally you can vote early in person, or by filling out a ballot and dropping it off at a designated site. Why vote early? You beat the crowds, you don’t have to deal with harried poll workers or people who showed up at the wrong place or didn’t fix their registration and there’s no time to fix the problem … and if you need info, you can probably get through to your county elections office!
- Here’s the California statewide list of early voting and vote by mail ballot drop-off locations. Pull down to see all locations in your county.
- These webpages tell you about early voting, voting by mail, dropping off your ballot, and more:
Follow up: check your ballot status
In California, you can check the status of your ballots. You can find out whether your provisional ballot was counted, and the reason why, if it was not. And if you voted by mail you can find out whether the ballot arrived at your county’s election office, whether the ballot was counted, and, if not, the reason why.
Read our recent article with more great info about voting in the mid-term election here.