Vote by mail FAQs
Will my vote count?
Yes. Every valid Vote By Mail ballot will be counted. You can track the status of your returned Vote By Mail ballot online.
Is it secure?
Yes. The signature on the back of the return envelope is compared with the voter’s original signature on the registration form to ensure that an unauthorized person can not complete and return another voter’s ballot.
Can I use a Sharpie to mark my ballot? Doesn’t it bleed through and void the ballot?
The use of a Sharpie pen to mark a ballot does not void the ballot. The voting system reads the ink from a black marker like a Sharpie better and the ink dries faster than other inks. The ballot scanners only read marks in the oval voting target areas of your ballot. The ovals on one side of a ballot card do NOT align with the ovals on the other side of the card, so – if bleed through occurs – it is not read by the ballot scanner.
Do I have to mail it?
No. You can deliver your ballot to the Registrar of Voters’ Office or place it in the white 24-hour drop box located near the flagpole. You can also take your ballot to any Santa Clara County Vote Center on Election Day or to any city hall before or on Election Day. Complete list of the official ballot drop box sites
Need to vote before election day?
Voting is available to registered voters of Santa Clara County at the Registrar of Voters Office beginning 29 days prior to every election. Learn more about the vote center location
When will I get my vote by mail ballot?
Starting approximately 29 days before an election, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters begins to mail registered voters eligible to vote in the upcoming election a Vote by Mail ballot. There is no need to make a request.
If you need to vote before you receive your ballot in the mail, early voting is available at the Registrar of Voters beginning 29 days prior to every election and at select Vote Center locations in the days leading up to Election Day.
A list of voting and ballot return locations will be provided with your Vote by Mail ballot. It is important to review your voting instructions for each election, because with some elections, early voting may only be available at the Registrar of Voters office.
How can I track my ballot and find out if it is counted?
You can track the status of your returned Vote by Mail ballot online through the Registrar of Voters online portal, by selecting Vote by Mail Ballot Tracking under the Popular Services area of our home page.
You can also sign up for the Secretary of State’s notification services at WheresMyBallot.sos.ca.gov to get automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notiﬁcations about your ballot.
If I move, will the post office forward my ballot to me?
No. Election mail is non-forwardable [by law]. That is why it is important to update your registration whenever you move. The Registrar of Voters receives National Change of Address (NCOA) data and will send you a postcard which you must respond to and confirm your new address. If you do not respond and confirm your new address, your name may be placed on our “Inactive” rolls and you will no longer receive election mail, including your County Voter Information Guide, your Vote by Mail ballot, and other important notices from the Registrar of Voters.
If you move within the weeks ahead of an election, it may be best to fill out a Voter Action Request Form (VARF) with the us, in addition to changing your address with the U.S. Post Office, to be sure your Vote by Mail ballot is sent to the correct address. If you are away from home temporarily, please see the next question for how to let us know.
If I am temporarily away or displaced from my home, how do I get my ballot?
Whether you have a plan or something unexpected has you away from home during an election, you can provide a temporary mailing address where we should mail your ballot. Complete a vote by mail ballot application form and provide a temporary mailing address where you would like to receive your ballot.
The Registrar of Voters also has an emergency ballot delivery program and works with local short- and long-term temporary residential facilities, hospitals, and jails to assist voters to receive a Vote by Mail ballot while they are residing there.
All registered voters can use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (RAVBM) to download a copy of the ballot that can be printed and returned by mail.
How does someone living in a short-term or long-term residential care facility get their ballot?
The Registrar of Voters has an emergency ballot delivery program and works with local short- and long-term temporary residential facilities, hospitals, and jails to assist voters to receive a vote by mail ballot while they are residing there.
Alternatively, the voter can complete an application for a replacement ballot and permit someone who is over 16 years old to pick up a ballot and deliver to them. The voter may then also authorize someone to return their voted ballot by completing the information on the outside flap of the blue return Vote by Mail ballot envelope. Anyone authorized to return a voted ballot has up to three (3) days to return it by either mailing it through the U.S. Post Office, a secure ballot drop box, or available vote center.
My child is away at college, how can they get their vote by mail ballot sent to them?
If they don’t already have their college address listed as their mailing address in their voter registration record and did not receive their vote by mail ballot, they can request a replacement ballot. They should complete a vote by mail application form for a replacement ballot using their college address as their mailing address. Alternatively, they may authorize someone to come to the Registrar of Voters and obtain a replacement Vote by Mail ballot on their behalf.
All registered voters can use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (RAVBM) to download a copy of the ballot that can be printed and returned by mail.
How can I get my vote by mail mailing address protected if my life is in danger?
The Secretary of State operates the Safe At Home program for voter’s who need specialized address confidentiality services. A unique mailing address location will be provided to you where you can receive your ballot confidentially.
Can someone pick up and return my ballot for me?
Yes. If you did not receive your Vote by Mail ballot in the mail, you can complete an application for a replacement ballot and permit someone who is over 16 years old to pick up a ballot for you.
To authorize someone else to return your voted ballot for you, just complete the information on the outside flap of your return Vote by Mail ballot envelope. Anyone authorized to return a voted ballot has up to seven (7) days to return it by either mailing it through the U.S. Post Office, a secure ballot drop box, or available Vote Center.
Can someone who is incarcerated in jail still vote?
Possibly, yes. Under California Election law, a person who is serving their felony term in a county jail or who was sentenced to parole can retain their right to vote. However, persons with a felony conviction who are serving time in a state or federal prison, or who are serving out the state or federal term while housed in a county jail or facility do not regain the right to vote until they are released.
The Registrar of Voters has an emergency ballot delivery program and works with local jails to assist eligible voters receive a Vote by Mail ballot while they are residing there.
As of the year 2021, people who are released from prison but remain on parole for a felony conviction can also have their right to vote restored by completing a new voter registration form.
To see if you or someone you know who has been affected by the criminal justice system needs to check their eligibility to vote, visit the Secretary of State’s Restore Your Vote page to verify status.
What is “ballot harvesting” and is it illegal for someone to collect voted ballots from multiple voters?
Ballot harvesting refers to individuals who collect, or “harvest” many voters’ completed ballots, possibly taking advantage of the voter’s option to permit an individual to return their voted ballot for them. While this act of collecting and returning ballots for multiple voters is not wholly illegal, the person collecting the ballots may be violating one or more laws that protect the voting process if there is any intent by the person collecting ballots to engage in a criminal act.
While it may seem like a kind gesture to collect and assist many voters submit their voted ballot, and often times it is; but, ballot harvesting can severely undermine the fairness and honesty of elections. This activity can delay the timely return and processing of ballots, holding onto them so they are not included in the Election Night results; can put voted ballots at risk of tampering while not securely stored under strict state and county security procedures; or, even worse, may cause ballots to be rejected if they are not received by the legal deadline to be processed.
While it is legal for someone to help more than one voter to return their voted ballot, it is not legal for anyone to collect or harvest voted ballots with the intent to engage in a criminal act. For more information on returning voted ballots, see Elections Code Section 3017 and related penal provisions found in Division 18.
Is my ballot secure?
Yes. The return envelope is designed with a cross-hatched pattern on the inside to prevent someone from viewing your voted ballot. To prevent tampering while being processed at the Registrar of Voters office, your ballot is physically secured by protective fencing and access to voted ballots is limited to only certain employees. The signature on the back of the return envelope is compared with your original signature on the most current registration form to help prevent someone else from casting your ballot.
Do I have to return my vote by mail ballot through the U.S. Mail?
No. While you can return your voted ballot in your postage paid Vote by Mail envelope for FREE, you can also return it in person.
You can return it to any Santa Clara County official Ballot Drop Box Location or available Vote Center on or before Election Day. You can also authorize someone to return your ballot for you by completing the area on your return Vote by Mail ballot envelope.
Complete list of the secure ballot return locations available for the most current election. It is important to review your voting instructions for each election, because with some small all mail ballot elections, there may be no Vote Center locations available.
If I post mark and mail it back on election day, will it count?
Yes, if it is received on time. Vote by Mail ballots that are postmarked ON or before Election Day must be received no later than seven days after the election to be processed. In the days leading up to the election, it may be best to return it in person.
If the date on the envelope is postmarked AFTER the day of the election, it cannot be processed.
What if I need a new ballot?
If you did not receive your Vote by Mail ballot, have lost it or made a mistake when marking it, you can request a new one.
There are three ways to obtain a new or replacement ballot:
- By Mail: You can request a new ballot to be mailed to you. Call the Registrar of Voters toll-free at (866)430-VOTE (8683) or email [email protected]. Your request must be received at least seven days before the election. After then, replacement ballots are only available in-person.
- In-Person: You can pick up a replacement ballot in person at the Registrar of Voters office or at any Vote Center in the County established for the current election.
- Online: You can use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (RAVBM) to download a copy of the ballot that can be printed and returned by mail.
If you receive and vote a replacement ballot, any ballot that was already issued to you will automatically be void. Please destroy and discard your unused ballot. Only one ballot will be accepted per voter per election.
What if I don’t want to vote by mail?
If you do not want to vote using the Vote by Mail ballot, you can go to the Registrar of Voters office or any Vote Center in the County established for the election to vote in person. If you are given a ballot at a Vote Center, your Vote by Mail ballot will automatically be void. You can bring it with you to turn it over in exchange for a new ballot or you can destroy it and throw it away.
Be sure to review your voting instructions for a list of available voting locations as with some small elections, voting in person may only be available at the Registrar of Voters office.
My family or household member accidentally signed my envelope, what should I do?
This is a common occurrence.
If you still have both envelopes, you can simply cross off the wrong signature and put the correct signature on each envelope and return the ballots to us.
If one envelope has already been returned to us, you can still use the envelope you have. Just cross of the pre-printed voter’s name and write the correct voter’s name and then sign the signature area of the envelope you have. The envelope that has already been returned with the wrong signature will be processed under the name of the voter who signed.
You can also choose to return your Vote by Mail ballot in person to the Registrar of Voters office or a Vote Center and receive a new envelope.
My [grandparent, parent, spouse, child etc.] cannot sign their name any longer. How do they sign?
Under law, in order for the ballot to be processed, the voter MUST attempt to sign or make a mark (like an “X” or other mark they use to identify themselves) which must be witnessed by ONE person who must also sign the return envelope.
I have legal Power of Attorney for my [grandparent, parent, spouse, child], can I vote their ballot and sign the return envelope for them?
No. Unfortunately, under California Election Law, having power of attorney does not grant you the right to engage in registering to vote, vote, sign a vote by mail ballot return envelope or roster of voters, sign a petition, or conduct any activity under that person’s name or identity relating to registering and voting.
I think I forgot to sign the return envelope, what should I do?
Don’t worry! When we see an envelope without a signature, we mail you an “Unsigned Ballot Statement” form, requesting you sign and return it by the date on the notice. After the election staff validate your signature, your ballot can be counted.
If my signature changes over time, will my ballot still be counted?
We are used to seeing signatures change over time. A variation in your signature does not necessarily cause it to not compare. If a staff member cannot confirm your signature on the Vote by Mail ballot return envelope to your signatures on file, your ballot will move through multiple levels of verification before it is deemed to not match. If your signature has changed drastically and does not compare to your signatures we have in our database, we will send you a “Signature Verification Form,” that, if you return, will be used to process your ballot.
Did you know.... For decades, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has provided voter registration services to people who are obtaining a new driver’s license or state ID card. That means the signature you use on your driver’s license or state ID card is likely to be the same signature that is on file with your county elections official.
Does California have guidelines for how signatures are verified?
Yes. Chapter 8.3 of Division 7 of Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations contains rules for verifying signatures and standards for validating and invalidating a vote by mail ballot. You can access the current Regulations on the Secretary of State’s website under Popular Services.
Is my signature verified by a person or by a machine?
Each returned Vote by Mail ballot is verified by a staff member, not by a system or machine.
The Registrar of Voters uses a large sorting machine that can quickly organize return Vote by Mail ballots and ready them for processing by election staff. The system expedites the initial processing by sorting the envelopes by ballot type and digitizing the envelope information so staff members do not need the physical ballot to be at their computer station for signature comparison; instead, an image of the envelope is viewed side-by-side against the voter’s current registration information.
A variation in the voter’s signature does not necessarily cause it to not compare as signatures change over time. If election staff cannot verify the voter’s signature on the outside of the envelope, the voter’s ballot may then move through multiple levels of verification before it is deemed to not match. If the signature of the voter does not match, the voter is sent a “Signature Verification Form,” that must be returned for their voted ballot to continue to be processed.
For more information on how ballots are processed, please refer to our website information on How Your Vote is Counted where you can also access a link to the Registrar of Voters latest Canvass Procedure Manual.
If I don’t return my ballot, will my registration be cancelled?
No. California election law does not permit cancelling a voter who simply chooses not to vote in any election. Section 2201 of the California Elections Code lists the specific reasons for canceling voter registration, ranging from an individual’s signed request to be removed, upon proof the person is imprisoned for the conviction of a felony, upon verification of the death of the registrant, or upon proof the person has reregistered to vote in another county or state or is otherwise ineligible to vote.
See also question above, “If I move, will the Post Office forward my ballot to me?”
Someone once told me that if the races are not close, the remaining vote by mail ballots are not counted. Is this true?
No, that is not true. ALL valid ballots will be counted. Visit the Secretary of State’s website to find out what other Election Myths have been uncovered.
Is there a way to Vote by Mail that is accessible to voters who are blind or have limited vision or use of their hands?
Yes. The Registrar of Voters has a Remote Accessible Vote by Mail system that allows voters to access and vote their ballot independently and privately at home. Instead of using the paper Vote by Mail ballot, voters can access an electronic version of their ballot, which can be marked at home by hand or by using their own assistive device. After marking the electronic ballot, the ballot must be printed, requiring the voter to have access to a printer. The voter will seal their printed ballot in the secure blue return envelope and sign the signature area on the back. The ballot envelope must be postmarked no later than Election Day and received by the Registrar of Voters no later than 7-days after the day of the election. To preserve privacy and security, ballot selections are not stored by the system or transmitted electronically through the Internet.
A voter who is unable to sign, must make a mark (such as “X”) to indicate their signature, which must be witnessed by at least one person who must also sign the return envelope. A voter may authorize someone to return their Vote by Mail ballot for them by completing the authorization area on the outside of the blue return envelope.
Accessible voting machines are also available at the Registrar of Voters office or any Vote Center in Santa Clara County for voters who wish to vote in person.
Is the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (described above) available to Military and Overseas Voters?
Yes, voters in the military or who reside overseas may also use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail system to access their ballot. Military and overseas voters are mailed their paper ballot in advance of the 29-day mailing to other registered voters to allow additional time for returning by mail. However, instead of waiting for or using their paper Vote by Mail ballot, military and overseas voters can access an electronic version of their ballot through the secure system. After marking the electronic ballot, the ballot must be printed, requiring the voter to have access to a printer. The voter will seal their printed ballot in the secure return envelope and sign the signature area on the back. The ballot envelope must be postmarked no later than Election Day and received by the Registrar of Voters no later than 7-days after the day of the election. To preserve privacy and security, ballot selections are not stored by the system or transmitted electronically through the Internet.
Can ANY registered voter use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System?
Yes. All registered voters can use the Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (RAVBM).
I just became a new resident of California, can I vote in this [current] election?
Yes. Visit our page, “I am a new resident to the State of California” for more information on how to register and vote.
I just became a new citizen of the United States, can I vote in this [current] election?
Yes. Visit our page, “I am a new citizen” for more information on how to register and vote.
(During a Presidential Primary Election) Can I change my political party and vote a new ballot at the same time?
Yes. Visit our page on Primary Elections for more information on registering and voting during a primary.