California Absentee Ballot Guide

Last updated March 22, 2016
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.  

Additional Information

State Elections Website
Email address:
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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