Frequently Asked Questions

About Election Results and this Website

  1. Will the unofficial election results change after Election Night? When will the election results be final?

    Election results will be updated throughout the canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots*, provisional ballots, and other ballots are processed. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it may take up to 30 days for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters. The frequency of updated results will vary based on the size of each county and the process each county elections office uses to tally and report votes.

    County elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State for presidential electors by December 1, 2020, and all other contests by December 4, 2020. The Secretary of State will compile the results for the presidential electors by December 5, 2020, and will then certify the results of the election by December 11, 2020.

    *For the November 3, 2020, General Election, a vote-by-mail ballot was mailed to all active registered voters. In-person voting is also available.

  2. What qualifies as “a close contest” for purposes of the Secretary of State’s election results website?

    For people interested in watching contests with particularly tight margins, the Secretary of State website includes a “close contest” feature. As election results come in for candidates, this page will show if there is less than a two percent difference between first and second place for candidates or between “yes” and “no” votes for ballot measures.

  3. On Election Night: Why have some counties not reported any results immediately after the polls close?

    Each of the 58 county elections offices processes ballots differently, and the distances poll workers must travel from polling places to county offices vary greatly. State law requires county elections officials to send their first batch of results to the Secretary of State’s office no more than two hours after they begin tallying votes after polls close on Election Day. County elections officials continue to report results periodically on Election Night until all polling place ballot totals have been reported. County elections officials will continue to count vote-by-mail, provisional, and other ballots up to 30 days after Election Day.

  4. On Election Night: Why do some counties show no precincts have reported, yet some votes have been counted?

    The first election results reported are typically ballots received before Election Day. Military and overseas voters may cast ballots up to 60 days before Election Day; vote-by-mail voting begins 29 days before Election Day. County elections officials may begin opening vote-by-mail ballot envelopes 29 days before Election Day, but those results cannot be accessed or shared with the public until all polls close on Election Day.

    Many county elections officials choose to tally and report these early voted ballots before results come in from precincts, which are sometimes far away from county headquarters. Early voted ballots simply appear as raw vote totals because, in this initial stage, the ballots are not attributed to individual precincts.

  5. On Election Night: Why do some counties show 100% precincts partially reporting on their first report of the night?

    If a county reports vote results for at least one ballot per precinct, the county will show 100% precincts partially reporting and will appear as if they have gone “final” for the night. This does not always mean that the county is done reporting for the night; therefore, each subsequent report from the county will appear as an “update” report.

  6. On Election Night: Why do some contests show a high percentage of precincts reporting, yet the number of votes continues to change?

    Some counties will show an entire precinct as having reported even if only one ballot from that precinct has been counted. This is why the website specifically notes the data is from precincts “partially” reporting.

    Once a county submits its final ballot-count report for Election Night, “SF” for Semi-Final will be noted in the Report Type column. Election Night results can be viewed as a snapshot in time on the County Reporting Status Snapshot page.

    Election results will change throughout the 30-day canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots (including conditional voter registration provisional ballots), and other ballots are tallied.

  7. When are vote-by-mail ballots counted?

    Vote-by-mail ballots received before Election Day are typically processed and ready to be counted on Election Day. Many more vote-by-mail ballots are dropped off at vote centers, polling locations, ballot drop-off locations, or arrive at county elections offices on Election Day. For this election, a mailed vote-by-mail ballot postmarked on or before Election Day is to be counted if received in the county elections office no later than seventeen days after the election. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it may take up to 30 days for county elections officials to process, verify, and count vote-by-mail ballots. The frequency of updated results will vary based on the size of each county and the process each local elections office uses to tally and report votes.

    All vote-by-mail ballots that county elections officials determine to be valid and cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State by December 11, 2020.

    A voter may check the status of their vote-by-mail ballot by visiting My Voter Statusopens new window or sign up for the Secretary of State’s “Where’s My Ballot?” opens new window ballot tracking system which allows a voter to receive automatic notifications on the status of their vote-by-mail ballot.

  8. When are provisional ballots counted?

    All provisional ballots, including conditional voter registration opens new window provisional ballots, that county elections officials determine to be valid and cast by eligible voters are counted and included in the official election results, which will be published by the Secretary of State by December 11, 2020. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it may take up to 30 days for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters.

    You may check the status of your provisional ballot by visiting My Voter Status opens new window.

  9. When are write-in votes counted?

    County elections officials must report their final write-in vote results for presidential electors to the Secretary of State by December 1, 2020, and all other state contests by December 4, 2020. The Secretary of State will compile the results of the presidential electors by December 5, 2020, and will certify the results of the election by December 11, 2020.

  10. What is the number of registered voters based on?

    The number of registered voters is based on the number of registrations reported by county elections officials as of the 15th day before the election.

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About Candidates and State Ballot Measures

  1. How is a general election different from a primary election in California? Why are two people with the same political party preference sometimes running against each other?

    California conducts top-two primaries for congressional and state legislative offices. In a March top-two primary all candidates for an office are listed on the same ballot and anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of political party preference. Only the two candidates who receive the most votes (also known as the top two vote-getters) in each congressional and legislative contest move on to the November general election. The top-two primary does not apply to the contest for United States President.

    In a November general election in California, there are no party specific ballots. For congressional and legislative office contests, the top two vote-getters from the primary will appear on the ballot. For United States President and local office contests, there may be more than two candidates on the ballot.

  2. What do party preferences mean when listed with congressional or legislative candidates' names on the ballot? What are the qualified political parties and abbreviations of those party names?

    A congressional or legislative candidate must indicate their preference or lack of preference for a qualified political party. If the candidate has a qualified political party preference, that qualified political party will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot. If a candidate does not have a qualified political party preference, “Party Preference: None” will be indicated by the candidate's name on the ballot.

    Abbreviations for the qualified political parties are:

    1. DEM = Democratic Party
    2. REP = Republican Party
    3. AI = American Independent Party
    4. GRN = Green Party
    5. LIB = Libertarian Party
    6. PF = Peace and Freedom Party
  3. Who is running for office?

    The Secretary of State’s Certified List of Candidates (PDF) includes all candidates for President, United States House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly who are up for election. County elections officials opens new window provide certified lists of candidates for local contests such as mayor and sheriff. The Certified List of Write-In Presidential Candidates (PDF) lists all the candidates running for United States President and Vice President as write-in candidates.

    Information about presidential candidates can be found on the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Guide opens new window website. Information about candidates for United States House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly is available through county elections offices and your county’s Voter Information Guide.

  4. How do we elect the President of the United States?

    Unlike in most elections, the person who becomes president is not necessarily the candidate who wins the most votes on Election Day. Instead, the election of the President of the United States is a two-step process.

    First, voters in each state cast ballots for president. In nearly every state, the candidate who gets the most votes in that state wins the "electoral votes" for that state and gets that number of voters (or "electors") in the "Electoral College."

    Second, the electors from each of the 50 states gather in December and cast their vote for President. The person who receives a majority of votes from the Electoral College becomes President.

    How exactly does this work? Under the Electoral College system, there are a total of 538 electoral votes. The number of electoral votes assigned to each state is proportional to its size — the bigger the state's population, the more electoral votes it gets. The formula for determining the number of votes for each state is simple: each state gets two votes for its two United States Senators and one additional vote for each member it has in the House of Representatives. For California, this means we get 55 electoral votes (2 United States Senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives) — the most of any state.

    On December 14, 2020, at 2:00 p.m., the Presidential Electors will assemble at the State Capitol. For more information on the Electoral College, please see our website opens new window.

  5. What statewide ballot measures (also known as propositions) are on the November 3, 2020, General Election ballot? How did these measures qualify for the ballot?

    There are twelve statewide propositions opens new window on the November 3, 2020, General Election ballot. Of the twelve statewide propositions, seven are initiatives, four were placed on the ballot by the Legislature, and one is a referendum.

    All statewide ballot measures require a simple majority of the public’s vote to be enacted.

    The initiative process opens new window initiative process is the power of the people to directly place measures on the statewide ballot through signed petitions. These measures can change a California law or the California Constitution.

    The seven initiative measures on the November 3, 2020, General Election Ballot are Propositions 14 opens new window, 15 opens new window, 20 opens new window, 21 opens new window, 22 opens new window, 23 opens new window, and 24 opens new window.

    A legislative constitutional amendment is an amendment to the California Constitution that is placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

    Proposition 16 opens new window, 17 opens new window, 18 opens new window, and 19 opens new window are the legislative constitutional amendments on the November 3, 2020, General Election ballot.

    The referendum process opens new window is the power of the people to approve or reject new laws passed by the Legislature (with the exception of urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual, current state expenses) through signed petitions. Proponents of the referendum ask for a “no” vote, which stops the new law from going into effect. Opponents of the referendum, who want the law to go into effect as is, ask for a “yes” vote. The law will not be enacted if voters cast more “no” votes than “yes” votes on the referendum.

    Proposition 25 opens new window is the only referendum measure on the November 3, 2020, General Election ballot.

  6. Who writes the arguments for and against the ballot measures that are printed in the Secretary of State’s official Voter Information Guide?

    The Secretary of State’s office does not write ballot arguments. Arguments for and against ballot measures opens new window are provided by proponents and opponents of the ballot measures.

    If multiple arguments are submitted for or against a measure, the law requires first priority to be given to arguments written by legislators in the case of legislative measures, and arguments written by the proponents of an initiative or referendum for initiative and referendum measures. Subsequent priority for all measures goes to bona fide associations of citizens and then to individual voters.

    According to law, ballot argument language cannot be changed in any way unless a court orders it to be changed.

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About Voting

  1. Can I still vote in person if I was mailed a vote-by-mail ballot automatically?

    Yes, for this election all active, registered voters were mailed a ballot. Please check your vote-by-mail packet for a list of vote centers opens new window or polling places opens new window in your county. The Secretary of State also offers online tools to look up early voting locations, vote centers, and polling locations. opens new window

  2. What are the Secretary of State and county elections officials doing to help keep voters safe during this COVID-19 pandemic?

    Every active, registered voter will be mailed a ballot with a First-Class pre-paid postage return envelope, so that all voters have the option to vote from the safety of their home. In-person voting locations will offer face coverings, hand sanitizer, and physical distancing measures.

  3. What is Same Day Voter Registration (Conditional Voter Registration)?

    Same Day Voter Registration opens new window, also known as Conditional Voter Registration, is a safety net for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote or update their voter registration information for an election.

    Eligible citizens who need to register or re-register to vote within 14 days of an election can complete this process to register and vote at their county elections office, polling place, or vote center. Their ballots will be processed and counted once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process.

    In some instances, an existing voter may update their political party preference or their residential address by submitting a written request form to the county elections official, instead of having to complete a full voter registration application.

  4. What is Provisional Voting?

    If a voter’s name is not on the list of registered voters at their designated polling place but they believe they are registered to vote, they may request a provisional ballot. A poll worker will give them a ballot and a special envelope. After voting, they will place their ballot in the provisional ballot envelope and sign the outside affirming their identity and that they have not already voted in this election. Their provisional ballot is counted after their county elections official has confirmed that they are registered to vote and they did not already vote in this election either at another polling location or by mail.

  5. Am I required to vote on every contest or proposition on the ballot?

    No, you are not required to vote on every contest or proposition on your ballot. Your ballot will not be invalidated if you do not vote on every contest or every proposition.

  6. When is the last day to return my completed vote-by-mail ballot?

    Vote-by-mail ballots that are personally delivered to a polling place, vote center, county elections office, or a designated ballot drop-off location must be delivered no later than the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.

    Vote-by-mail ballots that are mailed must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your county elections office no later than 17 days after Election Day (November 20, 2020).

    If you are not sure your vote-by-mail ballot will arrive in time if mailed, bring it to any polling place, vote center, or a designated ballot drop-off location in your county or your county elections office no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.

    Individuals should contact their county elections official opens new window for information regarding in-person voting opportunities (i.e. locations, hours, etc.) or visit vote.ca.gov opens new window.

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About the California Voter's Choice Act

  1. What is the California Voter’s Choice Act?

    The California Voter’s Choice Act opens new window was passed in 2016. It has helped to modernize elections in California by allowing counties to conduct elections under a model which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters.

    This election model allows voters to choose how, when, and where to cast their ballot by: mailing every voter a ballot, expanding in-person early voting, and allowing voters to cast a ballot at any vote center within their county.

    For the 2020 elections, fifteen counties will be participating in the Voter’s Choice Act: Amador opens new window, Butte opens new window, Calaveras opens new window, El Dorado opens new window, Fresno opens new window, Los Angeles opens new window, Madera opens new window, Mariposa opens new window, Napa opens new window, Nevada opens new window, Orange opens new window, Sacramento opens new window, San Mateo opens new window, Santa Clara opens new window, and Tuolumne opens new window.

    For the November 3, 2020, General Election only, a number of other counties will be offering services similar to those offered in Voter’s Choice Act counties. Individuals should contact their county elections official for information regarding voting options and services available in their county or visit vote.ca.gov opens new window.

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