Voter guide 2020: Ballot measures, mail-in voting, becoming a poll worker, and more

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California Secretary of State Alex Padilla points to a voting booth at the Vote Center being set up for the U.S. general election at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 24, 2020. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, voters might be wondering whether it’s safer to vote by mail or vote in person. How do mail-in ballots work anyway? KCRW answers these questions and more. 

Who's eligible to vote? How do I register?
How do I check my voting status?
How can I vote this year?
How does mail-in voting work?
What’s the difference between absentee and mail-in ballots?
Is voting in-person safe? Can I be a poll worker?


Important upcoming dates

Monday, October 19:  Last day to register to vote online. You can register in-person through Election Day.

Thursday, October 22: Presidential debate at Belmont University (Nashville, TN).

Saturday, October 24: Select voting centers open for in-person voting in LA and Orange counties.

Friday, October 30: All voting centers open for in-person voting in LA and Orange counties.

Tue, November 3: Election Day. Polls close at 8 p.m. and mail-in ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day.

Friday, November 20: Last day county officials will accept mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov 3.

Check out KCRW election events.

What’s on the 2020 ballot?

This is a general election year, as well as a presidential election year. The main candidates are incumbent GOP President Donald Trump and Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Proposition 14 would generate $5.5 million in bonds to continue funding stem cell research, costing taxpayers an estimated $7.8 billion over the next 30 years. That’s according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office

Proposition 15 would raise taxes on big commercial properties for school and government funding. Check out KCRW’s coverage on how Proposition 15 could impact small businesses and kids enrolled in local public schools. 

Proposition 16 would reinstate Affirmative Action. Check out KCRW’s coverage on how Proposition 16 would impact college-aged students of diverse backgrounds who attend public universities. 

Proposition 17 would allow people on parole to vote.

Proposition 18 would give 17 year olds the right to vote in a primary or special election — if they turn 18 by the following general election.

Proposition 19 would provide tax breaks to California residents 55 or older when purchasing a new home. 

Proposition 20 would allow prosecutors to increase penalties for some property crimes (such as shoplifting and car theft), require law enforcement to collect DNA from those convicted of some misdemeanors like shoplifting, drug possession and forgery, and change parole violation penalties and early parole rules.

Proposition 21 would allow cities to enact rent control with some exceptions.

Proposition 22 would allow gig-based companies (think Uber and Lyft) to classify its workers as independent contractors.

Proposition 23 would readjust kidney dialysis clinic rules, such as requiring at least one physician to be present during operating hours; would require clinics to provide equal coverage to all patients; require clinics to share more patient infection information; and involve the California Department of Public Health in the clinic closure process.

Proposition 24 would enact new consumer data privacy rules, including a focus on the use of data by businesses, how long they hold onto data, and the creation of a new California data privacy agency. 

Proposition 25 would effectively eliminate cash bail. Check out KCRW's coverage of how zero cash bail would work. 

U.S. Congressional races, State Assembly and Senate races, and municipal races will also be on the ballot.

Municipal races include County Supervisor races, City Councilmember races, and District Attorney races, such as the hotly contested race between incumbent LA DA Jackie Lacey and her challenger George Gascón. Listen to Press Play’s October interview with Lacey and interview with Gascón.

Measure J would amend LA County's charter and shift annual funding to jail diversion and social services. Check out KCRW's coverage of Measure J. 

Who’s eligible to vote? 

California voters must be at least 18 years old, a U.S citizen, and a resident of California. 

Those who are in state or federal prison, or are on parole for the conviction of a felony, cannot register to vote or vote in an election. Some people with a criminal history can vote, but must meet certain requirements

Eligible voters must also legally be considered mentally competent

How to register to vote

All eligible residents can register to vote by mail, online, or in person. The last day to register online to vote is October 19. 

Paper applications can be found at government locations such as DMVs, public libraries, local county elections offices, and post offices. Voters must hand deliver or mail applications to local elections offices 15 days before the election. 

However, if you miss the registration deadline, Californians can sign up for same-day voter registration, or conditional voter registration. That just means voters can sign up to vote right on the spot at a voting center, county elections office, or polling place.  

People who are 16 or 17 years old who live in California and are U.S. citizens can also pre-register to vote. 

Checking your voter status

In some counties, voters who do not regularly participate in elections are considered inactive voters and may be removed from voter rolls. 

You can check your voter status online through the California Secretary of State’s website. 

Click here for KCRW’s longer voter registration guide.

How can I vote this year?

You can vote in person or by mail. When voting by mail, you can return a completed ballot via USPS, deposit it into a secure drop box, or bring it to a voting center. 

Click these links to find: 

Local mail-in ballot drop box in LA County.

Local mail-in ballot drop box in Orange County.

Local mail-in ballot drop box in Ventura County.  

Local voting center in LA County. 

Local voting center in Orange County. 

Ventura County has not released its list of 47 voting locations.

In LA County, starting October 24, more than 640 voting centers will begin to open. By October 30, all 758 voting centers will be available. Voters will be able to cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Per state law, all voters in line at the time of a polling place’s closure must be allowed to vote

In Orange County, more than 200 voting centers will open starting October 30. Voters will be able to cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Voting in person might also look a little different this year depending on where you live. Some counties, like LA, have switched to touchscreen-based, multi-lingual machines called Ballot Marking Devices. 

Long gone are the pen and paper, bubble-coloring method. 

As for voting by mail: Fueled by coronavirus worries, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in May that requires every county elections official to send registered voters a ballot by mail. That means ballots will be sent to more than 20 million voters statewide. 

Eight other states and Washington D.C. will also automatically send every registered voter a ballot this fall. 

How does mail-in voting work?

Mail-in voting isn’t new in California and has been gaining traction among voters. In the March California primary, 72% of all ballots were cast by mail. 

As required by state law, election officials will start mailing ballots to registered voters on October 5. If you don’t receive a mail-in ballot within five days, contact your local County elections office

Once filled out, voters can send their ballots through the mail, or can drop them off at a voting center or a ballot drop box. If you’re unable to drop off a ballot, you can authorize another person to hand-deliver the ballot on your behalf. 

Ballots must be postmarked on or by Election Day, and must be received no more than 17 days after Election Day. No postage is necessary to send a mail-in ballot. 

Once it's mailed, ballots can be tracked on its journey to be counted.

What’s the difference between absentee and mail-in ballots?

Nothing. Absentee and mail-in ballots are both ballots that are mailed right to your door. Both can be filled out at home and mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. 

Is voting in-person safe? 

The COVID-19 pandemic will create a unique voting experience during the 2020 election. Some counties have created plans that fall in line with state and local public health mandates. LA County will require the wearing of facial coverings, social distancing, and the sanitization of Ballot Marking Devices.

Can I sign up to be a poll worker?

To sign up as a poll worker,  you must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder and meet all other voting requirements. Workers often earn a stipend for their time. 

High school students 16 years or older can also apply to be a poll worker with parental permission. They must currently be in school, have a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and be a U.S. citizen.

Those interested can sign up through their local county elections official.