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Election Frequently Asked Questions

Election FAQ:
What is different about the 2020 election?

San Joaquin County (SJC) and the entire country are experiencing record voter turnout.  This means people are participating in our democracy. This also means there are many more votes to count than previous elections. With these additional votes, it is taking the Registrar of Voters (ROV) much more time to verify and count every single eligible vote.

Why don’t we have final results on election night?

Under no circumstances would San Joaquin County, or any county, have final results on election night. The media sometimes “calls a race” when it appears statistically likely a candidate is going to win an election, but these are informed opinions, not binding law.

California law requires that election officials from each county must certify the official final results on December 3. The California Secretary of State (SOS) accumulates these certified results to create the certified results for the entire State. This is consistent with the law and there are several good reasons for the delay between the election and the certified count:

  1. In most counties there are far too many ballots to count in one night. You can go to the SOS website to monitor the County Reporting Status to see voter turnout in each county. https://electionresults.sos.ca.gov/returns/status.
  2. San Joaquin County’s “unprocessed ballot report”, also known as the “ballots remaining to be counted report,” provides a raw count of how many ballots are left to count.
  3. According to election law, mail in ballots received up to 17 days after the election that have a postmark on or before election day (November 3) are valid. This helps to account for delays with international or domestic mail service so that military personnel and any citizens working or traveling abroad can participate in the election. This means that not all votes will be available for counting until November 20.
  4. Counting ballots is labor intensive and the cost of equipment and human resources to process everything in one day is not easible in San Joaquin County or any other county. The ROV’s office is currently verifying and counting anywhere between 6,000 – 15,000 ballots per day. There are some ballots that take more to validate, including Conditional Voter Registration / Provisional ballots. We are working to accurately verify votes quickly. However, we aren’t going to cut corners and will work methodically to ensure that all eligible votes are counted by December 3.
  5. It takes time to assure that all valid votes are counted – this includes the time required to confirm the signatures for vote-by-mail ballots received, including time to notify a voter if a problem is discovered. This also includes time to duplicate damaged or improperly voted ballots to assure each voter’s intent is honored.
Can’t we expedite counting for close races or give a total number of ballots remaining to be counted for a close race?

No. California Elections Code specifies the requirements of the tasks of the canvass. The canvass of the votes ensures every eligible ballot is counted and counted accurately. There is a methodical process for meeting those requirements, and that process does not provide for changing procedures mid-stream without following the established code. It would just slow the process down even further.

The ROV is focused on counting all eligible ballots and completing the canvass. The election results will be certified on December 3, 2020.

The ROV does not provide special reports or a breakdown of unprocessed ballots for individual contests or geographical areas. An unprocessed ballot report, also known as “ballots remaining to be counted” is updated on the County website whenever results are updated. The report is a raw count of all ballots countywide and not specific to a district. Results will be reported at 9 p.m. each day until all ballots are verified and counted. This should occur through December 3 when the election is certified.

The SOS also has information about the unprocessed ballots for all the counties in California at: https://electionresults.sos.ca.gov/unprocessed-ballots-status.

What does it mean when we say 100% of precincts are reporting if not all of the ballots are counted yet?

Precinct reporting is not relevant for this election. A “Precinct” describes the geographical location and polling place where you and your neighbors are assigned to vote. Historically, when the ballot boxes from all of the precincts were returned and counted on election night, counties would report “100% precincts reported.”

With the popularity of Vote-by-Mail, fewer and fewer ballots are cast at the polls on Election Day. In a traditional election, San Joaquin County reports the results of the early returns of the Vote-by-Mail ballots right after the polls close, before precinct ballots are counted. In the 2020 Presidential Primary Election, the results of almost 43,000 Vote-by-Mail ballots were reported with 0% of the “precincts” reporting. In that election, roughly 3/4 of the ballots cast were by mail ballot.

In the 2020 Presidential General Election, San Joaquin County did not have traditional neighborhood polling places. The County established 35 “Voter Service Centers” where any resident of the County could cast their ballot over the course of four days, rather than being assigned to a specific precinct polling place on Election Day.

This new model changed the way the Secretary of State deems “100% of precincts reporting”. This election, it means that all ballots cast in-person on Election Day at a Voter Service Center have been reported. It does not mean that 100 percent of the mail ballots, conditional voter registration provisional ballots, or ballots cast in-person before Election Day have been counted. There are many more ballots that will be qualified and counted during the canvass period after Election Day.

What is the official canvass?

The “official canvass” is the public process of processing and tallying all ballots received in an election, including, but not limited to, ballots voted in person, provisional ballots and Vote-by-Mail ballots not included in the semifinal election night results. The official canvass also includes the process of examining all election materials returned from Voter Service Centers, reconciling ballot inventory and voter participation history, processing conditional voter registration provisional ballots, and performance of the post-election manual tally, which is an audit to ensure the ballots were counted accurately. The canvass concludes with the certification of the results.

What does voter turnout mean?

Voter turnout is the number of ballots counted and reported on our website as a percentage of the number of registered voters. As more ballots are counted, the turnout number and turnout percentage increases. For example, on election night in the 2020 Presidential Primary Election, voter turnout in San Joaquin County was about 17%. Whereas, the final certified results, after the canvass showed about a 46% turnout.

How many ballots are left to be counted?

For the most updated information on votes left to be counted, visit www.sjcrov.org to see the results and the unprocessed ballot report.

I’ve been watching the results for a race that I’m interested in and the percentages keep changing. When will we know for sure who won?

When all of the votes cast have been counted and the Election has been certified by the County Registrar of Voters, the election is over and the final results will be known. This should occur on December 3. Until then, any reported results are still unofficial because we are still counting votes.

Is the new Vote-by-Mail system secure?

The majority of votes cast in the last several elections in San Joaquin County have been cast with mail in ballots. Vote-by-Mail is secure and this is accomplished through checks-and-balances required by Elections Code, voting system use procedures, and statewide best practices and County procedures. Here’s what happens when your Vote-by-Mail ballot arrives:

  1. The envelope is scanned and a picture of your signature on the envelope is captured. Every signature is then compared with the signature that is on file from when you last registered. If there is any question about the signature match, the ballot is “challenged” and the signatures are reviewed by a supervisor. The supervisor is able to compare your signature to your previous Vote-by-Mail envelopes or other documents you have sent to the Registrar of Voters. If the supervisor agrees that the signature doesn’t match, a letter is sent to the voter to give them an opportunity to resolve the problem. These are called “cure” letters. Cure letters are also sent to voters who forgot to sign their envelope.
  2. Vote-by-Mail envelopes that are not challenged are considered “good”. The envelopes are sorted into precinct order, then opened by a machine and the ballots inside are removed. As soon as the ballot is removed, it is separated from the empty envelope, and the ballot is no longer traceable back to the voter.
  3. All ballots are visually inspected by hand by Registrar of Voters staff to validate that:
    1. There is no information identifying the voter on the ballot If a voter signs his or her name or writes down identifying information, the votes will be counted, but they will need to be duplicated onto a fresh ballot to maintain the voter’s privacy.
    2. There is nothing on the ballot that might interfere with machine processing. Ballots with foreign substances such as white-out, fluids and staples can damage the equipment.
    3. The ballot is not damaged. Not only does this include, tears and crumbled corners, but it also includes damage to the barcodes on the side of the ballot. The barcodes indicate to the voting system the precinct, ballot type and language of the ballot. A stray pen mark or tear would make the ballot unreadable. The barcodes are not specific to a particular voter; there is no voter information in the barcode.
    4. The ballot is filled out correctly. Ballots are counted by a high-speed machine that looks in the rectangle for marks indicating the voter’s intent. Ballots with rectangles completely filled in with black or dark blue ink are fine. Voters who put check marks or Xs into the rectangle might have their votes missed by the machine. Voters who misunderstood or didn’t follow the instructions to completely fill in the rectangle have their ballots duplicated to assure that they are counted.
    5. The ballot is flat. Creases and folds are flattened for Vote-by-mail ballots or ballots that were folded by the voter at the voting location.
  4. Finally, once ballots have passed inspection, they are batched using scales certified by the County Office of Weights and Measures and scanned by a high-speed machine that counts votes.
What is ballot duplication?

A ballot may be determined to need duplication during ballot inspection when it has identifying information, is damaged or otherwise unreadable. The original ballot is logged and stamped as damaged and given a unique serial number. A team of two people duplicate the voter’s selections on a Touch Writer and further reviews the votes on the Touch Writer summary screen against the damaged ballot. The duplication team prints out a clean ballot that mirrors the voter’s intent on the damaged one. The team checks the votes one more time and writes the serial number of the damaged ballot on the replacement ballot. Another team of two people “QA” (quality assurance) the ballot and the log. The QA team verifies the replacement ballot votes match votes on the damaged ballot and verifies the log was completed correctly. The damaged ballot is placed in an archive and the replacement ballot is scanned and the votes are counted. Ballot duplication is conducted toward the end of the ballot scanning process so that all the replacement ballots are batched together and can easily be retrieved to compare against the damaged ballots.

Who can register to vote?

Any United States Citizen and resident of California. 18 years or older on election day. Not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony. Not prohibited from voting by a court because of mental incompetency.

What is the deadline to register to vote?

The deadline to register to vote is 15 days prior to Election Day which is Monday, October 19th. After that date, voters can register and vote on the same day by visiting any Voter Service Center - including the Registrar of Voter's office at 44 N. San Joaquin St., Third Floor, Suite 350, Stockton, 95202 during regular business hours and the hours of Voter Service Centers.

What is a Conditional Voter Registration?

Same day Conditional Voter Registration is available for Californians who miss the deadline to register to vote. Voters can register to vote before 8 p.m. on November 3 and vote the same day. Their ballots will be processed and counted once the county elections office has completed the voter registration verification process.

Am I automatically registered to vote when I submit the online application?

No. The information you submitted must first be verified by your county elections official.

What if my name, address, or political party affiliation changes?

You must re-register to vote if any of this information has changed.

What if I just moved, do I have to re-register?

Yes, ballots are not forwarded in the mail. You can re-register to vote in person at any Voter Service Center and get a ballot at the same time.

How do I know if I'm registered to vote?

You can check the status of your voter registration at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov or 209-468-VOTE (8683).

Is voter registration information confidential?

Title 2, Division 7, Article 1, Section 19003 of the California Administrative Code allows members of the public to purchase a copy of the voter file only for political, election, scholarly, journalistic or governmental purposes. Information about your address and contact information is available in that voter file data. Some information, like your name, party affiliation, voter participation history, and jurisdiction of residence is available to the general public.

Are voter registration applications available in languages other than English?

Yes, forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. Telephone-based interpreter services will be provided at every in-person voting location. This service includes 24/7 access to telephone-based interpreters, allowing election officials to assist voters in their native language. This service is available now and can be used by any county elections official, including their support staff and volunteers.

What if I have not received my Vote-by-Mail ballot?

Please call the Registrar of Voters office at (209) 468-2890 immediately to request another ballot to be mailed. The last day to request a Vote-by-Mail ballot to be mailed is October 28. Ballots are also available at our office or at any Voter Service Center.

When does voting begin?

Early voting began on Monday, October, 5 at the Registrar of Voters office. Registered voters can cast their ballots between October 5 – November 3, 2020, by mail, at an official drop box location or at Voter Service Centers located throughout the County. Voter Service Centers and the ROV main office will be open between October 31 and November 3 at 8 p.m. Official Drop Box locations can be found here. Voter Service Center locations can be found here.

Do I have to Vote-by-Mail?

No. For the November 3, 2020 election, every registered voter will receive a vote-by-mail ballot in the mail. New voters who register will receive a ballot within two days of registering. Voters have the option of voting by mail, at one of 28 official drop box locations or voting in person at any Voter Service Center throughout the County. Official Drop Box locations can be found here and are subject to the hours of operation of the building where they are located. Voter Service Center locations can be found here and will be open October 31 – November 3 at 8pm.

Do I have to mail my ballot in?

No. You can drop your ballot off at one of 28 official drop box locations throughout the county or take to a Voter Service Center location. Official Drop Box locations can be found here. Voter Service Center locations can be found here.

How much is postage to return my ballot?

There is no cost for postage. All ballots include a postage paid-return envelope.

When is the last day to vote?

The last day to vote is Tuesday, November 3 at 8 p.m. Voters who are in line at a Voter Service Center, Official Ballot Drop Box or Drive-through drop-off location before 8 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballots. All mailed ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020 and received within 17 days (November 20) will be counted.

How many Vote Service Centers will there be?

There are 34 Voter Service Centers located throughout the county. 35 if you include the Registrar of Voters Office. Voter Service Center locations can be found here.

What hours are Voter Service Centers open?

Voter Service Centers will be open from October 31-November 2 from 9am-5pm and on Election Day, November 3, locations are open from 7am to 8pm.

Am I required to wear a mask at a Voting Service Center?

Strict Public Health COVID-19 protocols will be followed for all in-person voting with masks, gloves, social distancing and sanitation guidelines in place. No voters will be turned away
for not wearing a mask; however, disposable masks will be provided.

Is identification required to vote?

In some instances. If you are a first-time voter for a federal election you will be asked to show some type of ID. Any document with your name and address is sufficient. You will only be asked for an ID the first time you vote. Once you verify the information you will never be asked to show an ID to vote again.

Can I vote online?

No. For security reasons California law prohibits casting a ballot over the internet. However, you can access your ballot through our Remote Accessible Vote-by-Mail Ballot option on our website.

What is Remote Accessible Vote-by-Mail?

For the Presidential General Election, all voters can use a Remote Accessible Vote by Mail Ballot to safely vote at home. Ballots are compatible with screen-reader technology for voters with disabilities. Once the ballot is marked, it needs to be printed out and returned to the Office of the Registrar of Voters. Please read the instructions carefully. Ballots cannot be submitted online or by email.

What is a Provisional Ballot?

A Provisional ballot is cast when the voter believes they are registered to vote even though their names are not on the official list. They received their ballot in the mail and do not have it to surrender (and the elections official is unable to verify that they have not returned their vote-by-mail ballot. Your provisional ballot will be counted after elections officials have confirmed that you are registered to vote in that county and you did not already vote in that election.

I spoiled, damaged, or misplaced my ballot. Can I get another one?

Yes. You can get a replacement ballot at any in-person voting location.

What if I forgot to sign my Vote-by-Mail ballot?

We will mail you a letter entitled "Unsigned Ballot Envelope Statement". You have until 5:00pm two days before the ROV certifies the election.

I lost my envelope for my Vote-by-Mail ballot, how can I send in my ballot?

We can send you a replacement envelope, or you can pick one up at a Voter Service Center. Call (209) 468-2890.

My child is away at school. Can I pick up their ballot?

You may pick up their ballot and must sign an affidavit stating you are authorized to do so.

How can I tell if my ballot is counted?

You can sign up at wheresmyballot.sos.ca.gov for alerts by text (SMS), email, or voice call on status of your Vote-by-Mail ballot. You may also call the County’s Voter Hotline at 209-468-VOTE (8683).

When will the official results of the election be posted?

The first election night results will be posted on our website at 8:30 pm for all vote-by-mail ballots received and processed up to that point. Voter Service Center ballots will be reported at 9pm and Election Day ballots will be reported starting at 10pm and continuing every hour after that until all ballots issued on Election Day are tabulated.

  • The last day to vote is Tuesday, November 3 at 8 p.m. Voters who are in line at a Voter Service Center before 8 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballots. Voters who are in line at an Official Ballot Drop Box or Drive-through Drop-off location before 8 p.m. will be allowed to turn in their ballots.
  • All ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020 and received within 17 days (November 20) will be counted.
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