Elections FAQs

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Voter Registration FAQs

Who can register to vote?

You can register to vote if you are:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • A resident of California
  • At least 18 years of age on or before the next election
  • Not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction
  • Not declared mentally incompetent by court action

How do I register to vote?

You can fill out a voter registration form available at all post offices, city halls, most public libraries, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices and most governmental agencies. Once you sign the form, just drop it in the mail. Postage is prepaid.

The Secretary of State’s website enables you to fill out a voter registration form online. The online form uses your signature on file with the DMV. If you have no DMV signature, you can print out the form and mail it in.

When must I re-register to vote?

If you move, change your name, or wish to change your political party affiliation, you must re-register to vote.

The deadline to register to vote for any election is 15 days prior to Election Day. After the deadline, you can still register conditionally at the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division, 40 Tower Road, San Mateo. Your vote will be counted once you’re confirmed as an eligible voter. Other satellite locations may be designated.

I just moved to California, when can I register to vote?

You can register (or re-register) at any time, but you must be registered 15 days prior to an election to be eligible to vote in that election. However, in presidential elections, special rules apply to new residents.

Can I register to vote at my business address or can I use my P.O. Box number?

You are only eligible to register to vote using your place of residence. You are only eligible to vote in the contests in the jurisdictions where you live (e.g., congressional, state assembly, state senate, municipal, judicial, county, school and/or special district offices). However, Safe at Home participants can use a free P.O. Box instead of a home address.

You may use a business address or a P.O. Box as a mailing address to receive voter information materials.

I registered at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Why does the County say I’m not registered?

A number of citizens who thought they had registered at DMV offices are not actually registered. Although they checked the box on the DMV form indicating they wanted to register to vote, many forgot to complete the attached voter registration form. A voter registration form must be completed, signed and received by the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division in order to become a registered voter.

Must I register with a specific party?

No. California law states that an individual may select “No Party Preference” when registering to vote.

What are the qualified political parties?

The qualified political parties in California are: the American Independent Party, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Peace and Freedom Party and the Republican Party. California law permits you to register and select the “No Party Preference” option indicating that you are not affiliated with any party. This is the same thing as a nonpartisan voter, an independent voter, or a “Decline to State” voter.

Can I change my political party affiliation?

Yes. If you wish to change your political party affiliation you must re-register at least 15 days prior to an election.

If I didn’t vote in the last election, do I have to re-register?

No. Generally, you are registered to vote as long as you live at the same address.

How can I find out if I am registered to vote?

Go to the “Check My Registration/Access My Election Materials/View My Sample Ballot Pamphlet” page. You will be asked to type in your house number, zip code and birth date to check the status of your voter registration and find other important information. You can also call the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at 650.312.5222 and ask one of the staff to check and see if you are registered.

Can I obtain registration information about another individual?

Yes. However, access to this information is restricted. The Elections Code has very strict guidelines as to the permissible uses of voter information.

I became a new citizen after the registration deadline. Can I still register and vote?

Yes. Persons who become citizens after the close of registration can only vote at the Elections Office up to the seventh day prior to an election. New citizens must present a Certificate of Naturalization and declare that they have established residency in San Mateo County.

Can an ex-felon register to vote and be eligible to vote?

Yes. An ex-felon can register to vote and is eligible to vote in elections if he/she is not currently in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

What is Conditional Voter Registration?

During the period of 14 days up to and including Election Day, an individual may go to the office of their county Elections Official or designated satellite location to conditionally register to vote and vote a provisional ballot. This process is called Conditional Voter Registration (CVR).

In order to conditionally register, the individual must first complete an affidavit of registration (also known as a voter registration card). The voter is then given a CVR provisional ballot to vote.

Once the county Elections Official processes the affidavit of registration, determines the individual’s eligibility to register and validates the individual’s information, the registration becomes permanent and the CVR provisional ballot will be counted.  This process occurs before or during the canvass period.

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Vote by Mail FAQs

How much time do I have to return my Vote by Mail ballot?

Vote by Mail ballots must be received by the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division on or before 8 p.m. on Election Day, or be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the Friday after Election Day.

You may drop off your Vote by Mail ballot at any Vote Center in the County, any city hall or at any of the four Voting Centers (Redwood City, San Mateo, East Palo Alto, and South San Francisco) before 8 p.m. Election Day and it will be counted.

What should I do if I think my Vote by Mail ballot will not arrive at the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division by the 8 p.m. deadline?

You may come use our 24-hour ballot drop box located at 40 Tower Road in San Mateo up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Also, on Election Day, you may return your Vote by Mail ballot to any Vote Center, Ballot Drop-Off Box location, or city hall in San Mateo County between the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What should I do if I cannot return my Vote by Mail ballot myself and it is too late to send it in the mail?

You may authorize a relative (spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother or sister) or any person residing in the same household to return your ballot. On the return envelope, you must sign your name and print the name of the person you are authorizing to return your ballot. That person must also sign in the space provided.

If I lose the Vote by Mail ballot sent to me, can I get another one?

Yes. Call the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at 650.312.5222 and a second ballot will be sent to you. You must sign the statement sent to you with the second ballot indicating you have lost or did not receive your Vote by Mail ballot.

You may also go to any Vote Center. 

I am out of the country and the mail is slow. Can I apply earlier than the normal 29 days?

Yes. Go to this website and follow the directions. You may receive a special Vote by Mail ballot that can be sent out as early as 60 days prior to an election.

I will be in another state during the election. How can I get a one-time ballot mailed to me there for this election if I’m not a military or overseas voter?

Voters who are traveling out of state during the election, can request a one-time Vote by Mail ballot to be sent to a temporary mailing address (the address where they’ll be during the election). Voters can request this ballot via phone, email, or on our website here.

How do I qualify for Permanent Vote by Mail status?

California allows any voter to request Permanent Vote by Mail status. Simply complete the online form. You can also call 650.312.5222 and request an application from our office. A Vote by Mail ballot will automatically be sent to you for all future special elections.

If I request a Vote by Mail ballot, can I change my mind and vote at any Vote Center?

Yes. If you have not already cast your ballot for the election, you may visit any Vote Center in the County to obtain a replacement ballot. Your previously issued ballot will be void upon the issuing of your replacement ballot. 

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California Voter’s Choice Act
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the California Voter’s Choice Act? How will it change the way I vote?

The California Voter’s Choice Act fundamentally transforms elections to an All-Mailed Ballot/Vote Center Model. California Governor Jerry Brown signed this landmark law on September 29, 2016.

Under the law, ALL registered voters will be mailed a Vote by Mail ballot beginning 29 days prior to Election Day, regardless of whether you have signed up as a Vote by Mail voter or not.  

Over 200 traditional neighborhood polling places countywide will be replaced by 39 Vote Centers along with 26 Ballot Drop-off Locations. 

In addition to mailing back their voted ballot, voters can also go to ANY Vote Center to cast their ballot in person either on paper or on the voting machine. You can also drop off your ballot at ANY Vote Center, Ballot Drop-off Location or any participating City/Town Hall in the county.

​When is the first election that San Mateo County will conduct under the California Voter’s Choice Act voting model?

San Mateo County has been selected by the State Legislature as one of 14 pilot counties statewide authorized to conduct elections under the California Voter’s Choice Act starting on January 1, 2018.

On September 12, 2017, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors authorized the Chief Elections Officer to conduct the June 5, 2018 Statewide Direct Primary Election as the first election to be held under the California Voter’s Choice Act.

Will all elections be conducted by this new model in the future in San Mateo County?

This new model will affect all regularly scheduled elections. Special elections occurring on other dates may operate differently depending on the request of the jurisdiction(s) calling an election.

What services will be provided to voters with disabilities?

San Mateo County engages the disabled community in every aspect of an election, from voter education to accessible voting options. The Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet is provided in an accessible format that is screen-reader friendly. Each Vote Center will be equipped with multiple Disabled Access Unit eSlate voting machines and have multilingual staff to assist in English, Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese or Hindi. Facsimile ballots will also be mailed to voters those precincts who receive facsimile status and who requests the language.

Voters with disabilities will be able to vote privately and independently through our Accessible Vote by Mail (AVBM) system. AVBM Voters may mark an electronic ballot in a screen-reader accessible format and then print and return their ballot in a postage paid envelope.

What services will be provided to the non-English preference voters?

All information that is provided in English, including official ballots, will also be available in Spanish and Chinese as required by Section 203 of American Voting Rights Act. Additionally, facsimile ballots in Filipino, Japanese and Hindi will be displayed at all Vote Centers as required by Elections Code Section 14201. Bilingual staff members are also available at all Vote Centers. Facsimile ballots will also be mailed to voters in precincts who receive facsimile status and who request the language.

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Dominion Democracy Suite Voting FAQs

Why are we changing the way we vote? What’s wrong with the previous system?

The Hart-InterCivic voting system, purchased in 2006, has served San Mateo County well, but it has reached the end of its useful life. In addition, on February 27, 2019, the California Secretary of State advised all Registrar of Voters that any legacy voting system not meeting the current state certification standards would be decertified effective August 27, 2019. Our Hart-InterCivic voting system was one of those systems. 

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved a contract to lease a new voting system, called Democracy Suite, from Dominion Voting Systems, Inc., on July 9, 2019. The Democracy Suite system will be used for the first time in the November 5, 2019 election.

Why did San Mateo County choose the Democracy Suite voting system from Dominion?

The new Dominion voting system, called Democracy Suite, is a state certified, fully integrated voting system platform providing the highest degree of election security and transparency to the voting public. Dominion has a proven track record in California, operating successfully in at least 40 counties. 

Democracy Suite key benefits: 

  • Voting security - certified by CA SOS; complete audit trail 
  • Improved voter experience - touch screen Ballot Marking Tablet 
  • Improved services - easier ballot adjudication  
  • Faster processing and scanning of ballots 

How was the Dominion Democracy Suite system chosen? 

On January 24, 2019, the Elections Division released a detailed Request for Information (RFI) package to qualified voting system vendors. During the 30-day RFI period, three qualified vendors responded to the RFI.  

These vendors were:  

  • Dominion Voting Systems, Inc.  
  • Hart-InterCivic, Inc.  
  • Election Systems and Software, LLC  

All vendors underwent a rigorous competitive screening process including detailed proposals, on-site demonstrations and a critical review by our voting advisory committees and staff. Our advisory committees are the Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC), Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC), Voter Education and Outreach Committee (VEAOC).  

Upon evaluating the proposals and considering input from our advisory committees, our Voting System Selection Committee, comprised of staff members, unanimously recommended the selection of Dominion Voting Systems. 

Is the new voting system easy to use? 

Yes. The new Ballot Marking Tablets are easy-to-use touchscreens and are designed to be highly intuitive.  

  • At a Vote Center check-in station, you will be issued an activation card  
  • Insert the card into the Ballot Marking Tablet  
  • Adjust the font size and screen contrast as needed  
  • To advance to the next contest, touch the “Next” button at the bottom of the screen  
  • Once satisfied with the selections made, touch the final “Print Ballot” button 
  • Your ballot will print in the voting booth. Take the ballot and deposit it in the Ballot Box 

Voting Instructions

How to Vote on a Ballot Marking Tablet

Cómo Votar en una Tableta de Marcar Boletas

如何用“選票填寫屏幕”投票

How to Vote Video 

Dominion Democracy Suite Voting FAQs

Español Video – Cómo Votar en una Tableta de Marcar Boletas

I am a voter with accessibility needs. Will staff be there to help me use this new system?

Yes, staff will be there to help you. However, Democracy Suite enables new options for accessible voting and the system is designed to help you vote without assistance. 

The Ballot Marking Tablet assists voters with visual impairments by presenting the ballot in audio format during an accessible voting session. Headsets provide voters with audio instructions to perform all actions, such as selecting language, adjusting volume and speed of ballot, and reviewing, editing or changing a write-in selection. 

An Audio Tactile Interface (ATI), a handheld device that is used by a voter during an Accessible Voting Session, is used to navigate though and make selections to the voter’s ballot. 

The ATI: 

  • Has raised buttons of different shapes and colors, with Braille numbers and letters 
  • Can be operated with one hand 
  • Includes two 3.5 mm headphone jacks, one for headphones and one for assistive devices like jelly switches, paddles or sip and puff devices 

The new voting booths are designed for accessibility. The Ballot Marking Tablet screen can be tilted to support viewing from either a standing or seated position. 

How can I be sure the Ballot Marking Tablets are working correctly? 

Before any vote is cast, the Ballot Marking Tablets are tested to make sure they work as expected. This process, known as Logic & Accuracy (L&A) testing, ensures that votes are counted as they have been cast. Comprehensive system testing and validation are conducted before every election. After the election, the Registration & Elections Division conducts a post-election manual tally of the votes cast, that serves as an audit to validate the results before they are made official. There are many other security features—both in the process and in the equipment and software—built into the election cycle. 

How do I know my vote was properly recorded? 

The Ballot Marking Tablet’s printed ballot lists the voter’s selections. After printing a ballot, a voter can review the ballot to confirm the selections made are listed properly. 

 Does the Ballot Marking Tablet have a paper trail?

Yes. The ballot is printed directly from the Ballot Marking Tablet. Voters deposit their ballots in the Ballot Boxes. Ballot Boxes are returned to the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division, where central scanners count the paper ballots and tabulate votes. As ballots are reviewed during the canvass, the system creates a complete audit trail documenting how each ballot was interpreted and tallied. 

In the case of a recount, the Registration & Elections Division is required by state law to use the paper record as the official vote tally. 

What if a recount is necessary?

If a recount is necessary, the paper ballots are counted and audited.  

How do I know my votes are private? 

Nothing in the system can connect you to the selections you voted.  

  • The Voter Card that you insert into the Ballot Marking Tablet has no information about you; it merely includes which ballot style you will use, determined by the address of your residence.  
  • The Ballot Marking Tablet does not record how you voted; it simply sends your selections to the printer.  
  • The ballot that you print, after making your selections, includes no information linking you to your ballot.  

This means that there is no identifying information recorded with your vote. Therefore, it is impossible to trace your vote. 

What if I change my mind or make a mistake after I have touched the “Print Ballot” button?  

Using a Ballot Marking Tablet, a voter can change any vote at any time until the final “Print Ballot” button is touched. Up to that point, simply touch the selection you made to unselect that choice. Then make your new selection, by touching the appropriate box. The earlier vote is erased and the new vote is recorded. Follow the onscreen instructions for guidance in making changes to your ballot before you print your ballot. 

If you realize you made a mistake after your ballot is printing, please contact a Vote Center Representative for assistance. 

What if I want to skip a contest?

It is your decision and right to choose not to vote in any contest. To skip a contest, touch “Continue” at the bottom right of the Ballot Marking Tablet. That will take you to the next contest. After you have voted in the last contest on the ballot, a warning screen will tell you if you have skipped a contest or voted for fewer than the maximum number of selections in a contest. You will have an opportunity to change your votes and to vote in previously skipped contests.

What if I accidentally vote twice in a race? Will my vote be discarded?

The Ballot Marking Tablet will not allow you vote twice in the same contest unless the contest allows two or more options. The system is programmed to help make the entire voting experience intuitive and smooth, providing assistance if needed. Prompts will appear on-screen if more options are available. If you change your mind and deselect one of your choices, you can then make another choice. 

How do I know that my vote has been cast?

Unlike our previous voting system, your vote is not cast until you deposit your ballot in the Ballot Box. After you have printed your ballot, be sure to deposit your ballot in the Ballot Box before leaving the Vote Center.  

If the power fails or if there is a machine failure, will my vote be lost?

No. If the power fails while you are voting, the selections you have made will not be lost on the Ballot Marking Tablet, due to the battery backup. A Vote Center Representative will assist you in printing your ballot during a power outage or if another problem arises. 

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Jury Duty FAQs

Is it true that voter registration lists are used to select citizens for jury duty?

Yes. California State Statutes require that lists of registered voters be provided to the Jury Commissioner to be used for jury duty selection.

Why am I receiving multiple jury summons?

The Jury Commissioner selects jurors from lists provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles and the County Voter Registration Unit. If your name appears differently on your driver’s license and voter registration file, you may receive multiple notices. To remedy this situation, complete a new voter registration form with your name printed as it appears on your license and return it to the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at 40 Tower Road, San Mateo.

If I cancel my voter registration, can I be certain that I will not get a summons for jury duty?

No. It has no effect on future jury duty summons. The Jury Services Division requests a list of all active voters. The law also requires that lists of licensed drivers, obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), be made available to the Jury Commissioner.

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General FAQs

Are there circumstances under which a voter can be required to Vote by Mail?

Yes. There are circumstances under which a voter can be required to Vote by Mail. If a precinct has fewer than 250 registered voters on the 88th day before an election, that precinct can be declared by the Elections Official to be a “Mail Ballot Precinct.” All Mail Ballot voters are notified of the change in status and mailed an official ballot.