Frequently Asked Questions

About Candidates and State Ballot Measures

California conducts top-two primaries for constitutional, congressional, and state legislative offices. In the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary there will only be candidates for congressional and legislative office. All candidates for these offices are listed on the same ballot and anyone can vote for any congressional or legislative candidate, regardless of political party preference. The two candidates, regardless of their political party preference, 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.

California's political parties may hold presidential primaries in one of two ways:

  • Closed presidential primary - only voters indicating a preference of a party may vote for that party's presidential nominee. For the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election the Republican Party, Green Party, and Peace and Freedom Party have chosen to hold closed presidential primaries.
  • Modified-closed presidential primary - voters indicating a preference of a party and voters who did not indicate a party preference ("no party preference voters" or "NPP" voters) may vote for that party's presidential nominee. For the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election, the Democratic Party, American Independent Party, and Libertarian Party have all chosen to allow NPP voters to participate in their presidential primaries.
  1. 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 candidate must indicate his or her 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.

    The 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. P&F = Peace and Freedom Party
  2. 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.

    Information about Presidential candidates can be found on the Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide website. Information about candidates for United States House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly is available through county election offices and your county's Voter Information Guide.

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

    There is one statewide proposition on the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election ballot. This statewide proposition was placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

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

  4. 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. 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. How to vote for President?

    If you wish to vote for president and are registered as having No Party Preference (NPP), you must request a primary election ballot with presidential candidates from one of the following parties by contacting your county elections official or requesting one at your polling location:

    • American Independent Party
    • Democratic Party
    • Libertarian Party

    If you wish to vote for the Green, Peace and Freedom, or Republican Parties' presidential candidates, you must be registered with that specific party. You may re-register to vote to change your political party preference even after the close of registration by using the Conditional Voter Registration process or in some instances, a written request form.

    Voters that are registered with a qualified political party can only vote for that party's presidential candidates.

    The political parties, not the Secretary of State, determine whether or not to allow NPP voters to vote for their party's presidential candidates.

    You can learn more by visiting How to Vote for U.S. President opens new window.

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

    No, it is 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.

  5. When is the last day to return my voted 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 3 days after Election Day.

    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.

  6. How do I return my vote-by-mail ballot in person on Election Day?

    You may return your vote-by-mail ballot in person to any polling location in your county, your county elections office, or a designated ballot drop-off location on Election Day. If you are unable to return the ballot yourself, you may designate any person, as long as they do not get paid on a per ballot basis, to return the ballot to the elections official or the precinct board at any polling location within the jurisdiction or to a designated ballot drop-off location. The ballot must be received by the elections official or the precinct board before the close of the polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

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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.

    *In Los Angeles County, voters will not automatically be mailed a ballot, however there will be a high-density of vote centers.

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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 change 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 or more 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.

    Pursuant to Executive Order N-34-20 issued by the Governor on March 20, 2020, the official canvass period for the March 3, 2020, Presidential Primary Election was extended by 21 days.

    County elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State for presidential delegates by April 21, 2020, and all other contests by April 24, 2020. The Secretary of State will compile the results of the presidential delegates by April 25, 2020, and will the certify the results of the election by May 1, 2020.

  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 Presidential candidates, this page will show if there is less than a two percent difference between first and second place. For all other contests, this page will list all contests in which there is less than a two percent difference between second and third place for candidates or between "yes" and "no" votes for ballot measures. Election results will change throughout the canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots, and other ballots are tallied.

  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 ballots not cast at polling places through the canvass period.

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

    The first election results are typically ballots received before Election Day. Military and overseas voters may cast ballots up to 60 days before Election Day and vote-by-mail voters may begin voting 29 days before Election Day. County elections officials may begin opening vote-by-mail ballot envelopes up to ten business 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 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 canvass period as vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots (including conditional voter registration provisional ballots), and other ballots are tallied.

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

    Vote-by-mail ballots that are received by county elections officials before Election Day are typically counted on Election Day. Many more vote-by-mail ballots are dropped off at polling locations, ballot drop-off locations, or arrive at county elections offices on Election Day. A vote-by-mail ballot is to be counted if received in the county elections office no later than three days after the election and postmarked on or before Election Day. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 30 days or more 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 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 May 1, 2020.

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

    Some counties are also offering a new tool called "Where's My Ballot?" opens new window which allows voters to receive automatic notifications on the status of their vote-by-mail ballots.

  7. 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 May 1, 2020. Depending on the volume of these types of ballots, it takes up to 30 days or more 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.

  8. When are write-in ballots counted?

    County elections officials must report their final write-in vote results for presidential delegates to the Secretary of State by April 21, 2020, and all other contests by April 24, 2020. The Secretary of State will compile the results of the presidential delegates by April 25, 2020, and will certify the results of the election by May 1, 2020.

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

    The number of registered voters is based on the quantity of voter registrations deemed effective and received by the county elections official on or before the 15th day before the election.

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About the Special Primary Elections

  1. How are special elections conducted?

    California conducts open primaries for legislative, congressional, and constitutional offices. In an open primary, all candidates for an office are listed on the same ballot and anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of party preference. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in a special primary election, the two candidates who receive the most votes will move on to a run-off election. (Elections Code sections 10705 and 10706.)

    If any candidate receives a majority (over 50%) of the votes in the March 3, 2020, Congressional District 25 or Senate District 28 Special Primary Elections, he or she will be declared elected, and no special general election will be held. (Elections Code section 10705.)

  2. Who are the candidates?

    The Secretary of State's list of candidates includes the names for all candidates on the ballot for:

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

    Special election results will change 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 several days for the county elections official to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters.

    County elections officials must report their final special election results to the Secretary of State by March 18, 2020. The Secretary of State will certify the results shortly thereafter. (Elections Code section 15501.)

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