Polls in the Pandemic: What Every California Voter Should Know Before Election Day


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Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

This November’s general election is set to be historic, not just because of the presidential race at a time when the American electorate is unusually polarized.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous changes have been made to the voting process. Mail-in ballots are available for all California voters for the first time in history, and the state has also pledged to make safe in-person voting available.

In a press conference earlier this month with Ethnic Media Services, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla spoke about the state’s new voting procedures, and how his office is working to ensure that all communities are able to vote safely.

“In my role as Secretary of State, I also serve as California’s Chief Elections Officer. We work in partnership with all 58 counties in California to administer elections. Usually we want to make sure elections are accessible and secure. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to make sure that the voting experience is one that is safe and protects health both the voters and election workers,” Padilla said.

Eligible Californians can register to vote online up until the deadline of Oct. 19. After that date, the only option is same-day voter registration in person, either during early voting or on election day. Voters who use same-day voter registration receive provisional ballots so they can still vote in the election.

Padilla urged voters to verify their voter registration before the Oct. 19 cutoff to ensure that ballots are delivered to the right address.

He also addressed that some previously registered voters may have inactive voter status and need to re-register. Voters are classified as “inactive” when a county elections official receives information that a voter has moved out of state, or if two general elections have passed and the voter has not voted or confirmed their address, according to the California Elections Code. Inactive voters usually don’t receive voter information guides, and their names won’t show up on the voter rolls when they go to vote in person.

“If an inactive voter goes to vote in person, they’ll still be allowed to vote a provisional ballot, their registration will be re-activated, and their ballot will be counted. So, it doesn’t mean that they’ve been taken off the rolls completely. It’s one of the reasons we’re asking people who think they’re registered to verify their registration status. The simple act of verifying your registration status will ensure that you are an active registered voter and will receive your ballot this November.”

This year every registered voter will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot, and all ballots postmarked by Election Day — and received within 17 days following Election Day — will be counted. The ballots will be sent out starting the first week of October. Voters who want to drop off their ballot in-person can do so at any ballot drop box or polling location.

Padilla’s office also has an online ballot tracking tool called “Where’s My Ballot,” where voters in every county can sign up to receive automatic email, text message or voice call notifications about their ballot. For those who sign up, the tracker will send notifications when their county sends them their ballot, when the returned ballot has been received and when their vote has been counted.

For in-person voting, each county received guidance from the Secretary of State’s office to keep polling locations safe from COVID-19. The guidance asks voters to wear a face mask, bring a pen to avoid touching high-contact surfaces, use hand sanitizer after touching doors or voting equipment, and keep a distance of two- arms’ length from other people.

Though the state is encouraging voters to vote by mail, Padilla acknowledged that some voters will prefer to go in person, possibly to receive help voting or to use accessible voting machines. Padilla’s recommendation is to vote as early as possible, in order to avoid any delays.

“We encourage people to go the first day that in-person voting is available. Yes, you have until Tuesday, November 3, but the more people that we can encourage to vote early, whether it’s by mail or in person, we hope helps keep the lines shorter on Election Day, making that a safer experience for voters and poll workers alike,” Padilla said.

The official websites for checking voter status, registering to vote and tracking ballots are VoterStatus.sos.ca.gov and WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov.