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Voting In 2020: An inewsource Guide To All The Changes

This illustration shows representations of different ways to vote, including mail-in ballots or in-person voting, Sept. 20, 2020.
Shyla Nott / inewsource
This illustration shows representations of different ways to vote, including mail-in ballots or in-person voting, Sept. 20, 2020.

Voting in 2020 will be unlike anything you’ve experienced in the past. Across the country, up and down the state, and here in San Diego County, massive changes are underway to prepare for the Nov. 3 election amid a pandemic.

County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu said rapid adjustments to the election system at this scale are unprecedented.

“Something like this generally takes four to six maybe even eight to 10 years, and we're doing it in four to six months, if that,” Vu said.


Here’s inewsource’s comprehensive guide to help you navigate everything that’s new so you can make sure your vote counts. To submit additional questions for our FAQ page, email:


  • Unlike past elections, all registered voters will automatically receive a vote by mail ballot. Check your mailbox starting Oct. 5.
  • The last day to register to vote and automatically receive a vote by mail ballot is Oct. 19.
  • You can check or update your voter registration here. If you’ve moved recently, you should update your voter registration to ensure you receive the correct ballot.
  • Mark your ballot using a pen with dark ink. (Ideally blue or black)
  • Don’t forget to sign and date your ballot envelope before you mail it back.
  • Your ballot must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, to count.
  • You don’t need a stamp. The envelope is postage paid.
  • The county is expanding the number of vote by mail drop-off locations across the county – 126 locations to be exact.
  • Check the hours and locations online if you’d prefer to drop off your ballot.


  • I’m worried my mail ballot won’t arrive on time to be counted.For this election, state lawmakers extended the time ballots can arrive and be counted. Instead of the usual three days after an election, this year your ballot can arrive up to 17 days after the election and still count.
  • I missed the Oct. 19 voter registration deadline. You can still register to vote and cast a provisional ballot in person. Provisional ballots are counted after officials verify your eligibility. To do this, you can register at the registrar’s office or go to a polling location from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3. Call the registrar’s office at (858) 565-5800 if you need help.
  • I’m registered to vote but didn’t receive my vote by mail ballot. County officials say you shouldn’t worry until Oct.14. If you haven’t received a ballot by then, call (858) 565-5800. Your previous ballot will be suspended and a new one will be issued. If you never receive a ballot, you can still vote in person at a polling location.
  • I need help voting. You can request help voting remotely on the county’s website. You can also request translated election materials online in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino. You can find the state election guide online. You can also look up your local pamphlet here.
  • I received a vote by mail ballot, but I prefer to vote in person. You can do that. Officials advise that you bring your mail ballot with you to the polling location.
  • I want to drop off my completed mail ballot in person instead of mailing it. You can do that. For this election, polling locations will be open from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3. Tip: If you’re dropping off a completed mail ballot, you can skip the line. Look for the greeter station when you arrive. You can also use the vote by mail drop-off locations outlined above.


  • Signatures on vote by mail ballots go through a rigorous verification process. If a signature doesn’t match, state law requires election officials to contact the voter and verify the signature before counting the ballot. For more on local safety procedures, go to the county’s website.
  • You can ask someone to turn in your ballot for you, but state law requires you to give the person permission. There is a place on your ballot envelope to authorize someone to return it for you. It’s also illegal in California to compensate someone to turn in your ballot for you.
  • Local officials say San Diego County has not experienced any systematic or widespread voter fraud. Nationally, claims of rigged vote by mail elections have been debunked. Several states have safely conducted elections primarily using mail ballots in the past, including Oregon and Colorado.


  • You can track your ballot and get push notifications. Sign up on the county’s website.
  • The Secretary of State has until Dec. 11 to certify the results. California is already one of the slowest state’s in the country to count its ballots. In recent years, several Congressional races in Southern California have taken weeks to determine a winner. This year state lawmakers have extended the time that mail ballots can arrive and be counted and the governor has ordered that all voters receive a vote by mail ballot – both changes will likely lead to a slower vote count. Expect that the outcome of some races may not be clear on election night.


  • Check where to vote before you leave home. This election your usual polling location likely no longer exists. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be just 235 locations. Typically there are far more: during the March primary election, the county had about 1,550.
  • Your assigned voting location is noted on the back cover of your sample ballot or you can look it up online. You can also look up all polling locations below.

  • Poll workers this year will be paid workers, not volunteers. You’ll see more of them at each location than in years past.
  • You have more days to vote in person. Polling locations will be open from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.
  • Polling location hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
  • If you want to vote even earlier in person, you can go to the county registrar’s office at 5600 Overland Ave. in Kearny Mesa beginning on Oct. 5. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Mondays through Fridays with extended hours on select days.


  • Can I vote anywhere in the county? Yes. Election officials have assigned each registered voter to a specific location to help keep lines short. But if you need to vote at a different location, you can do so without casting a provisional ballot.
  • Can I vote without a mask? Masks are advised, but you can still cast a ballot without one. Poll workers will have masks available for those who forget them. If you prefer to vote without a mask or cannot wear one, staff will help coordinate curbside voting.
  • I missed the Oct. 19 voter registration deadline. That’s OK. Head to any polling location and you can register and cast a provisional ballot. Your ballot will be counted after your eligibility is verified.
  • I need help voting. Every polling location will have accessible ballot marking devices compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Voting materials are provided in English, Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese. Tip: You can even vote from a car. Call (858) 565-5800 to request this service in advance. Learn more about the full features of the ballot marking device and other help available on the county’s website. In addition, you can find the state election guide online. You can also look up your local pamphlet here.
  • I’m worried the lines will be long. They may be. Officials are encouraging everyone to mail in their ballots ahead of time. During the last presidential general election, nearly 500,000 people voted in person in San Diego County. Polling locations are in larger spaces this year to accommodate social distancing and help keep lines shorter. But overall there are far fewer in-person locations to vote, which could lead to large crowds.
  • I still need more help. If you have any questions about voting, call the county registrar’s office at (858) 565-5800. You can also reach out to inewsource staff on social media (Twitter: @inewsource or @maryplummer) or email us at
Voting In 2020: An inewsource Guide To All The Changes
Listen to this story by Mary Plummer.

Major changes are ahead for the election. Here’s your 2020 guide for how to cast your ballot.

It’s the best way to stay connected with the latest news from the award-winning investigative team at inewsource.