How to Vote

Read the Candidate/Ballot Initiative Information

All registered voters in California get a free voter information pamphlet at their home address from the California Secretary of State

This will have information

  • from the candidates and people for and against proposed ballot initiatives on what they believe 
  • on where your local polling pace is for voting on election day
  • how to use mail in ballots (including deadlines) 
  • about where to find answers on frequently asked questions, including where to get materials in other languages.

It is critical you read this document so you can be an informed voter.

If you lost your guide, you can use the California Secretary of State’s website and find information by election date and location (for local elections).

Vote at a Polling Place

On election day, you can vote in a polling center near your home address. This information in on the voter information sent to your home or you can use this tool from the California Secretary of State’s Elections Department.

That site uses information on what county you live in. If you’re not sure what county you live in, enter your zip code at or call the California Secretary of State’s Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE.

There may be lines at a polling place and there may be people outside the polling place telling you things about voting that may or may not be true. Know your rights!

What to do at Your Polling Place

In most cases, California voters are not required to show identification at their polling place. However, it is a good idea to bring identification with you when you vote for the first time. A poll worker may ask to see your identification if you mailed your voter registration application and did not include your driver license number, California identification number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

A copy of a recent utility bill, the sample ballot booklet you received from your county elections office, or another document sent to you by a government agency are examples of acceptable forms of identification. Other examples include your passport, driver license, official California identification card, or student identification card.

For more information on identification to use when you vote for the first time check the complete list or call the Secretary of State’s toll-free voter hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).

What if My Name is Not on the Voter List at the Polling Place?

Even if your name is not on the voter list at the polling place, you have the right to vote with a provisional ballot. Your provisional ballot will be counted only after the elections official has confirmed you are a registered voter and you did not vote anywhere else in that election. The poll worker can give you information about how to check if your provisional ballot was counted and, if it was not counted, the reason why.


Vote by Mail

In California, all eligible voters get a mail-in ballot (so they don’t miss work to vote, etc.). This does not need a postage stamp (because it is for official election materials). So, instead of going to the polls on Election Day, you may vote using the vote-by-mail ballot that will be sent to you. But you must mail it in so that it is postmarked (by the post office) no later than election day.

After you have voted, insert your ballot in the envelope provided, making sure you complete all required information on the envelope – including signing the envelope.

You may return your voted ballot by:

  1. Mailing it to the address on the envelope (which is your county elections official)
    • 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 7 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 in the state between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
  2. Returning it in person to any polling place within the state or the office of your county elections official;
    • Vote-by-mail ballots that are personally delivered must be delivered no later than the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
  3. Dropping your ballot off at a drop-off location or into a ballot drop box within the state; or
    • Vote-by-mail ballots that are personally delivered to a ballot drop-off location must be delivered no later than the close of polls at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
    • You can find a drop off location at this official state polling place list.
  4. Authorizing someone to return the ballot on your behalf.
    • Anyone may return your ballot for you, as long as they do not get paid on a per ballot basis. In order for your ballot to be counted, you must fill out the authorization section found on the outside of your ballot envelope.

When your vote-by-mail ballot is received by your county elections official, your signature on the return envelope will be compared to the signature(s) in your voter registration record. To preserve the secrecy of your ballot, the ballot will then be separated from the return envelope, and then it will be tallied.

All valid vote-by-mail ballots are counted in every election in California, regardless of the outcome or closeness of any race. For additional information on how and when ballots are verified and tabulated, please visit our description of how the official canvass of the vote is completed.

Track Your Ballot


The California Secretary of State is now offering Where’s My Ballot? —a way for voters to track and receive notifications on the status of their vote-by-mail ballot. Powered by BallotTrax, the Where’s My Ballot? Portal lets voters know where their ballot is, and its status, every step of the way.

To use the portal, sign up here. A voter who has signed up will receive notices via email, text, or voice message (depending on their preferences) from the county elections official regarding the status of their vote-by-mail ballot including:

  • When the ballot has been delivered
  • The date that the voter’s ballot is expected to be delivered to the voter
  • If the voter’s ballot is returned as undeliverable to the county elections official by the USPS
  • When the voter’s completed ballot has been received by the county
  • Whether the voter’s completed ballot has been accepted or a reason why the ballot could not be accepted and instructions of steps the voter can take in order to have the ballot accepted
  • The deadline for the voter to return his or her ballot if the county has not received a voter’s completed ballot by specified dates as determined by the county elections official