Your Guide to California Voting
Monday, Oct 22, 2018: Voter registration deadline (online or postmarked)
Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018: Absentee/Vote by mail ballot request deadline
Tuesday, Nov 6, 2018: General election
- 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register to vote and their registration will automatically be activated when they turn 18.
- Felons can vote. Even if you’ve committed a felony, you can vote as long as you’re off parole.
- Day of Election Voter Registration is here! Thanks to a change in state law, if you miss the Oct 22nd deadline to register to vote, you can still vote! For the first time in California, you can register and vote at City Hall on the day of the election. You can’t use a normal polling place, but if you go to the Department of Elections at City Hall you can register and vote there.
Types of Elections
There are three main types of elections. General Elections are elections in which most members of a given political body – like the presidency, Congress, and the Governorship – are chosen. Primary Elections are nominating elections, where a broad field of candidates are narrowed to the two top vote-getters, who advance to compete against each other in the General Election. Special Elections are elections that are scheduled outside of the usual dates for a specific purpose, often to fill an office that has become vacant before the incumbent has completed their term.
In our statewide primary, California now has a Top Two Open Primary system, which means that all candidates running for state constitutional, U.S. Congressional, and state legislative offices will be listed on a single statewide primary election ballot. Voters can vote for the candidate of their choice for these offices, regardless of how they are registered. The top two candidates, as determined by the voters, will advance to the general election in November.
In California, ballot measures can and do appear on ballots in all types of elections. This June, in San Francisco County, voters will participate in a primary election for a variety of federal offices (Senator, Congressional Representatives) statewide offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Superintendent, etc.), San Francisco County offices (Mayor, Judge of the Superior Court, etc.), and a variety of state, regional, county, and city ballot measures. We’ll discuss what’s on the ballot in detail in a future email, but until then, you can check out the candidates for all offices here.
The purpose of the General Election is to select the final people to hold offices at the federal, state and local levels. Voters select among the candidates from each party who were elected during the Primary Election.
Political Parties in California
California has 7 political parties:
- American Independent
- Natural Law
- Peace & Freedom and
Top-Two Primary System
Since 2010, California has utilized a top-two primary system. In a top-two primary system, all candidates are listed on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to the general election. Consequently, it is possible that two candidates belonging to the same political party could win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election. Any registered voter may participate in the primary and vote for any candidate, regardless of his or her partisan affiliation.
What Does This Mean For Me?
- You can help determine who the final candidate will be for your chosen political party.
- Do your research before Election Day, and ask yourself, “Who best represents my political beliefs? Who will be the best advocate for my community?”
History of the Initiative and Referendum Process
In California, policies can be made both by the state legislature, and by voters themselves through initiatives, referendums, and ballot measures. California’s brand of direct democracy means that once voters pass a ballot initiative, it can only be changed or overturned by another initiative (or, in some cases, the Supreme Court) – but not by politicians. Measures can be put on the ballot either through voter-led signature gathering campaigns, or by elected bodies. California adopted the statewide initiative process in 1911, becoming the tenth state to adopt this form of direct democracy, though the weight this system has in California is quite unique.
Researching ballot propositions is a great way to participate in our democratic system. Get together with friends, family, or neighbors and host a ballot review gathering in advance of the election if you can – remember that democracy is not a spectator sport!
Voting by Mail
- If you apply by mail, your application must be received no later than 7 days before Election Day, or by Tuesday, May 29th
- Mail your completed application to your county elections office
- Any time after 7 days before Election Day, you will need to apply in person at your county elections office
- Any registered voter may vote using a vote-by-mail ballot instead of going to the polls on Election Day.
- You may return your completed ballot by
- mailing it to your county elections office (must be received no later than June 8);
- returning it in person to a polling place or the office of your county elections official;
- dropping your ballot into one of your county’s ballot drop boxes; or
- authorizing someone to return the ballot on your behalf.
Greater Voter Participation Improves the Democratic Process.
- More voters means that more people’s views and opinions are being represented. In the 2004 General election there was a voter turnout of 55.3%, meaning that only roughly half of the eligible voter population is making decisions for ALL Americans.
- Children can’t vote, but you can! What things are important to and for your children? Using your voting power allows you to advocate on behalf of your children and your community.
- Voting is a great example for your children to follow, and you can bring them with you to the voting booth! When you talk about the electoral process with your children and bring them with you when you vote, you’re teaching them that voting is important. You’re teaching your children to be contributing citizens. All children and youth attending voting stations with their parents will receive a Future Voter sticker.
- On June 5 there is an opportunity to raise funds for Early Care and Education with a Yes on Proposition C. Vote.
As of August, 2008 25% of eligible California voters were NOT registered to vote (Public Policy Institute of California, Just the Facts, California’s Likely Voters, Aug. 2008). To make change happen at the local, state or federal level, people need to vote. The first step in having more people vote is to get them registered.
Excerpted from the Public Policy Committee of the Alameda County Early Care & Education Planning Council’s series of voter information emails with additions from San Francisco County elections resources.