Voting by Mail


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What is a Vote-By-Mail Ballot?

A vote-by-mail ballot is a paper ballot, with the same candidates and measures on it as you would receive at your polling place on election day. The ballot is mailed to you with instructions on how to mark it and how to return it. (Note: a vote-by-mail ballot was formerly referred to as an absentee ballot).

Who Can Use a Vote-By-Mail Ballot?

Any California registered voter may ask to vote using a vote-by-mail ballot. You do not have to be "absent" or "out of town on election day" to vote by mail in California. You may apply for a vote-by-mail ballot just because you want to.

How to Vote By Mail

  • You must request a vote-by-mail ballot for each election unless you have permanent vote-by-mail voter status.
  • You may:
    • request a vote-by-mail ballot on the form provided by your County Elections Official. Many Elections Office Web sites have a copy of this form. You may be allowed to request a mail-in ballot electronically; if not, print, sign, and mail the form to the address provided on the Web site.
    • There is a form printed on the back cover of the sample ballot pamphlet which is mailed to you prior to each election. Tear it off and mail to back to the Election Office. A stamp is required.
    • write a letter. The letter must contain:
      • your name as it is on your voter registration application
      • the address you gave on your voter registration application
      • the address to which you want the vote-by-mail ballot sent (this address may be different from the address you gave on your voter registration application)
      • the name and date of the election
      • your signature. (If you are requesting multiple vote-by-mail ballots for your household, include each voter's name and signature.)
  • The request must be received by your County Elections Official between 29 and 7 days before the election. No vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed out 6 days or less before an election. During the 6 days before the election you may go to the office of your County Elections Official, apply for and vote an emergency vote-by-mail ballot at that office.
  • You will be mailed your proper ballot.
  • Read the instructions and mark the ballot.
  • Put the ballot in the special return envelope and fill in the required information on the envelope. If you do not sign your name on the return envelope your ballot will not be counted. Your signature must match the signature on your voter registration application form.
  • Return your ballot in the special envelope:
    • by mail (with the correct postage) or in person to the office of your County Elections Official
    • or to any polling place location in your county on election day

    You may authorize a relative or other legally authorized person to return the ballot for you. To do so, you must fill out the authorization box on the envelope in which you place your voted ballot.

  • 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 17 days after Election Day.
  • If you make a mistake on your vote-by-mail ballot you may:
    • phone your County Elections Official and request instructions for getting a replacement
    • take your vote-by-mail ballot to your polling place on election day, give it to the poll workers, and vote a regular ballot
  • If you lose your vote-by-mail ballot

Was My Vote Counted?

All valid vote-by-mail ballots are counted regardless of the outcome or closeness of any race. Some County Elections Offices invite voters to use their Web site to determine when their ballot was mailed and if their vote-by-mail ballot was received.

Permanent Vote-By-Mail Status

Anyone may apply for permanent vote-by-mail voter status by checking a box on the state voter registation form or by completing, signing, and mailing a permanent vote-by-mail ballot request form found on your county Web site. You may also request permanent vote-by-mail status by sending a signed letter or sending in the back cover of your Sample Ballot (where there is a check-off box to request permanent status).

You will automatically be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot for each election; you will not need to request an vote-by-mail ballot for each election. Your permanent vote-by-mail status will continue until you fail to vote in a four consecutive statewide general elections or you request cancellation. Failure to vote does not affect your registration status.

In the Military and Oversees Absentee Voting

There is a special form for registering to vote and for requesting an absentee (vote by mail) ballot if you are living in a foreign country on election day or if you are in the military service. After you fill out the form and sign it you must mail it to your County Elections Official.

The Voter Registration/Absentee Ballot Form is available online at the Federal Voting Assistance Program. California is one of the states which will accept a printed copy of this online form. The form is also available at American Embassies and Consulates in postcard form.

A request for an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot from an overseas voter will be regarded and processed as a request for permanent vote-by-mail status.

See Military & Overseas Voter Information (California Secretary of State).

See also Overseas Vote Foundation.