Elections in the time of COVID-19 are, have been, and will be different. This year, under special legislation and Executive Order, every voter in California will be mailed a ballot for the November 3, 2020 presidential election. Ballots must be mailed and postmarked on or before election day and must be received by county elections officials by November 20, 2020.

New legislation requires each County elections official to mail every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot at least 29 days before the election, or by October 5, 2020.  All vote by mail ballots will be counted if received by county elections officials up to 17 days after the election, or by November 20, 2020. This is later than the standard 3-day deadline for vote-by-mail ballots to be received, reflecting the expected significant increase in mailed ballots. The extended receipt deadline may delay election results. Every county must implement a vote-by-mail ballot tracking system, either the state’s standard ballot tracker or an approved county-specific system, so every voter can confirm receipt and counting of their ballot.

The legislation builds on an earlier Executive Order by Governor Newsom also requiring county elections officials to send vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter for the November 2020 election. Gov. Newsom’s order also adjusts the rules for in-person voting. Counties, like Los Angeles or Sacramento, subject to the California Voter’s Choice Act, must open vote centers for early voting by October 31, 2020. Other counties, not subject to the California Voter’s Choice Act, must have at least one in-person polling place for every 10,000 registered voters and open them for early voting also starting on October 31, 2020. The Governor encourages counties to still allow earlier voting, but some counties may take advantage of this order to reduce in-person early voting in favor of voting by mail.

County and city elections officials are working with the California Secretary of State to develop new voting procedures for in-person voting, including implementing COVID-19-related social and physical distancing requirements. Cities, counties, and all Californians should pay close attention to their county’s elections official to confirm voting procedures.