California Absentee Ballot Guide

Last updated May 04, 2014
Military and Overseas voters should visit the Overseas Vote Foundation. Long Distance Voter's information should only be used by voters with US mailing addresses.

Important Deadlines

  • Voter Registration Form: Postmarked 15 days before the election
  • Absentee Ballot Application: Received 7 days before the election if requesting by mail; no deadline if requesting in person
  • Voted Absentee Ballot: Received by 8:00 p.m. on election day

How to vote by absentee ballot

Register to vote

Recommended: If your signature is already on file with the California DMV, you can use California's online voter registration application to register.

If that's not an option for you, you can use our Voter Registration Tool.  Enter your information, print and sign the completed form, and mail it to the address printed on the form.  For faster processing, mail the form directly to your County Elections Official

Verify your voter registration

It's best to verify your voter registration before applying for your absentee ballot.  If there's a problem with your registration, register again before proceeding.

NOTE: Most people receive their voter registration cards in the mail 2-3 weeks after registering to vote. Don't worry if you lost or never received it. You don't actually need your voter registration card to vote.

Make sure you're eligible to vote by absentee ballot

Good news! Any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot in California.

Apply for your absentee ballot

There's more than one way to apply for your absentee ballot.

  1. You can print and complete the official California Vote-By-Mail Application.  Mail, fax, or hand-deliver your completed application to your County Elections Official.  Once they process it, they'll mail your ballot to you. 
  2. You can apply for your absentee ballot using the application printed on your Sample Ballot, which you will receive prior to every election. 
  3. You can also submit your own written request to your County Elections Official. The request must contain (1) your name and residence address as stated on your registration card, (2) the address to which the vote-by-mail ballot should be sent - if different than your registered address (3) the name and date of the election in which the you would like to vote by mail and (4) the date and your signature.

Election officials start mailing the ballots 29 days before the election. You can apply before then, but the election officials will hold your application until the 29th day before the election.  Election officials cannot accept any applications received in the mail less than seven days before the election. 

If you omit any of the required information from your vote-by-mail ballot application, the elections official will send you a ballot, but will also include a notice that the missing information must be provided in order for the ballot to be counted.

Receive, complete and and return your absentee ballot

Follow the instructions that your county elections official provides with your ballot. Failure to complete your ballot correctly could jeopardize your vote. If you have any questions, please call your County Election Official. You will receive all the supplies necessary for the use and return of the ballot.

You must sign the return envelope. The elections official will compare your signature to the signature on your voter registration card to make sure that someone else isn't trying to vote your ballot for you.  Once your signature has been verified, the ballot is separated from the envelope and the ballot becomes as anonymous and secret as any other ballot.

Absentee ballots must be received by the elections official no later than the close of polls (8:00 pm) on election day. You can return your absentee ballot by mail or in person to your County Elections Official. You can also return your ballot to any polling place in your county or by 8pm on election day. 

If you are ill, or have a physical disability, you may designate a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister or a person residing in the same household as the vote-by-mail-voter to return your voted ballot for you. Your designated person may return your voted ballot in person to the election office, or they can bring it to a polling place in your county, or they can mail it to your County Elections Official. Contact your County Elections Official if you have any further questions.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to provide ID when I register to vote in California?

You must include your California driver's license number, or your CA identification card number, on your voter registration form.  If you don't have either of these numbers, you should include a copy of your ID with your voter registration form.  Acceptable forms of ID include a current and valid photo identification OR a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or other government document that shows your name and address.  Note: military voters, overseas voters, and elderly or handicapped voters are exempt from these requirements.

Do I need to provide ID when I vote by absentee ballot in California?

You do not need to provide ID if you've already voted in California at least once. If you are a first-time California voter and you registered to vote by mail and you did not include identifying information with your voter registration form (such as your driver's license number, your state ID number, or a copy of your ID), then you then you must submit a copy of one of the following documents with your absentee ballot application: a current and valid photo identification OR a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and California address.

Can I vote by absentee ballot on a permanent basis in California?

California is one of the few states in the nation that offers permanent absentee status to all voters. You can use the California absentee ballot application to sign up for the permanent by-mail voter list.  (There's a checkbox on the right side of the form.)  California will then mail you an absentee ballot for every eligible election.  This is a great way to make sure you never miss another election. 

You will retain permanent absentee voter status as long as you vote in all statewide primary and general elections. If you fail to cast a ballot in two consecutive statewide general elections, you will be removed from the permanent absentee voter list and will need to reapply in order to restore status.

I need a California emergency absentee ballot.  Help!

During the 6 days before the election - and on election day - you may go to the office of your County Elections Official, apply for and vote an emergency vote-by-mail ballot at that office.  Emergency Vote-By-Mail ballots are issued in person, not by mail (the name is slightly misleading).  Please contact your County Elections Official to learn more.

I missed the absentee ballot application deadline for California.  Is there anything I can do?

If you're in state, there are two things you can do: 

  1. You can vote an emergency vote-by-mail ballot at your County Elections Official's office (see above).
  2. California offers no excuse in-person voting at various locations throughout the state.  Visit our Early Voting page to learn more.

I've already received my California absentee ballot.  Can I still vote in person?

YES!  You must bring your non-voted by-mail ballot and give it to the polling place worker before voting a regular ballot.

Additional Information

State Elections Website http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections.htm
Email address: elections@sos.ca.gov
Local Election Officials: Your Local Election Official is the best person to contact if you have voting-related questions.  They'll be able to provide up-to-date information on rules and deadlines. 

 

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