Q & A: Contra Costa County Protocols for the Forthcoming Election on November 3, 2020

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this election will be different. This is a quick reference guide for navigating casting your vote. The information has been culled from several online sources and links are included for more information. With increased voting by mail, it is possible that even majority results may not be available on election night.

  1. Vote-by-mail? (1) Do I need to register specifically for this? NO. This year, all currently registered California voters will receive a ‘vote-by-mail’ ballot by both the Governor’s order and Assembly Bill 860, about a month before the November 3rd, 2020 state and national election. According to the Elections Division website, the target date for mailing ballots is October 5th. The Voter Information Guide is expected to be mailed to registered voters before that, by September 24th. Presumably, after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, the vote-by-mail ballots will revert to being a choice.
  2. Vote-by-mail? (2) How soon can I return my ballot by mail? IMMEDIATELY upon receipt and up to Election Day. Your ballot must be postmarked by or before November 3rd and received by the CCC Department of Elections within three days after the election to be counted.
  3. Vote-by-mail? (3) Suppose I change my mind about mailing it in? You have options: Before the election, and beginning October 5th, you will be able to drop off your ballot by delivering it to any of the new “Ballot Drop Off” drop-box stations, which will be outdoor white drop boxes similar to traditional blue USPS mail boxes at locations yet to be announced; OR by taking it to the office of the Elections Division, 555 Escobar Street, Martinez, CA 94553; OR on Election Day, you can take it to any polling place. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year it is unlikely that there will be any indoor ‘ballot drop off’ stations other than the CCC Elections Division office. The list of locations for ballot drop boxes will be posted by September 30th at www.cocovote.us
  4. Vote-by-mail? (4) Anything else that I need to know? YES: You MUST sign the addressed return envelope, or your ballot will not be counted.
  5. Can I change my mind and vote in person? YES, but because of the preponderance of the vote-by-mail balloting this year, if you appear in person to vote in the traditional method, your name may not appear on the roster and you will be issued a ‘provisional ballot’ that will have to be verified before it can be counted. The verification is to make sure that you are a registered voter and to prevent voting twice. If you use the ‘provisional ballot,’ you will be issued a receipt which has a reference number. If you want to confirm that your ballot was counted, then the status will be available 30 to 40 days after the election and by going to: www.cocovote.us/my-voting-information.Although, historically, the ‘vote-by-mail’ system was developed largely for absentee or disabled voters, this year, due to the COVID-19 situation, it will be the predominate system for voting in California, with a decreased number of physical polling stations available despite being a national election. With the advent of on-line registration of voters in addition to other means, commentators are suggesting that the traditional ‘walk-in’ polling places are now intended to accommodate late registering voters who were not in the system early enough to receive a ‘vote-by-mail’ ballot.
  6. Can I opt out of the ‘vote-by-mail’ system? YES, but it requires that you take several active steps to do so. Presently, you can request to do so by sending an email to ballot@vote.ccounty.us and requesting that your name be removed for the vote-by-mail records but you will have to completely re-register to vote to accomplish this. See #9 below.
  7. What is the latest day that I can register to vote? OCTOBER 19th. The Registration deadline for the November 3rd Election is October 19th. It is suggested that online registration is more likely to ensure entry into the system and, if you are requesting a ‘vote-by-mail’ ballot, that date is October 27th; otherwise, you will need to go to a polling station to vote. However, there is presently no guarantee that a last-minute request for a ‘vote-by-mail’ ballot will be effective. Common sense – and recent experience with the USPS – dictates that you should plan to go to the nearest polling site on election day to ensure that your vote will be counted.
  8. How do I find out where I can go to vote in person? ONLINE: Although not available at the time of the writing of this article, the information regarding precincts for this election and polling locations within those precincts is anticipated to be available at www.cocovote.us by mid-September. There may not be a separate tab, but by using the search feature (click on the magnifying glass icon at the upper right-hand corner of the website) type in ‘polling places.’Further, since one may also drop off their ballot at the local precinct on election day, the location information should be included with your mail-in ballot.
  9. Changes: How do I change my party affiliation? You will be required to re-register as a voter. If you attempt to do it on-line, the Contra Costa County Elections website will take you to the State of California voter status webpage (www.voterstatus.sos.ca.gov) which, after filing in your pertinent information, will take you to another page, “My Voter Status,” at which point, should you wish to update or change your information in any way, you must re-register to vote. You may also discover that you are permanently registered as a ‘vote-by-mail’ voter. If this is not to your liking, again, you will have to re-register to change this.
  10. Changes: What if I am in Martinez? Can I go to the Elections Division near the courthouse and make changes to my registration there? YES; at the time of writing this article, the Elections division at 555 Escobar Street has reopened for limited in-person services available Monday through Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm: you must wear a mask and keep to the social distancing rules. You will need your standard photographic identification (i.e., California driver’s license).

Editor’s Note:  This article was written in August. Due to recent unforseeable changes there is the possibility that some of the information here may have changed.