Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KAZU’s Digital Elections Guide: March 2024 Primary

A photo of the Monterey Public Library with a sign reading Official Ballot Box pointing in the direction of the ballot drop box.
Janelle Salanga
Ballot drop box signage will be present around drop box locations, including the one at the Monterey Public Library. Taken Feb. 9, 2024.

Update, March 7, 4:57 p.m.:

Read our story contextualizing and tracking key local race results.

Original guide:

More money for Watsonville Community Hospital. A change in how the Soledad mayor is elected. Expanded affordability requirements for Santa Cruz developments.

And of course, your pick for a U.S. president and new California senator.

Those are just some of the contests local voters will see on their ballots in the upcoming primary election. That’s coming up on March 5.

Every registered voter in the state has received a mail-in ballot, which counties sent out by Feb. 5. But if you’ve lost your ballot or haven’t yet registered, there are still ways to vote.

KAZU will be continuing to air and publish more information about key local races, along with updating this guide, as the election nears. Our stories so far:

    Here’s what you need to know about the logistics of casting your ballot before the big day.

    Jump to:

    What’s distinct about this election?

    During a county press briefing in January, Gina Martinez, Monterey County’s registrar of voters, called the presidential primary — this March 5 election — “the most complex election our voters will encounter.”

    “In this election, [political] parties are nominating the candidate that will represent the party in the general election,” she said during a county briefing in January. “There are six qualified political parties: American Independent Party … [which] is not independent of a party … the Democratic Party, the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Peace & Freedom Party and the Republican Party.”

    Voters will also decide two senatorial contests: One for a partial-term senator who will fill the late Dianne Feinstein’s spot until November, and one for a full-term senator to replace her come the general election.

    “You will see that a candidate may be listed twice,” Martinez said. “You can only vote for one [candidate] for each contest, but if you see a repeat candidate and want to vote for that candidate in both contests, you can do that as well.”

    Even though federal races seem like the big-ticket items, she urged people to look at their local races: “All elections are local,” she told KAZU. “If you look to the federal offices, it's the power of the people and we’re voting at a very local level.”

    For local races, like supervisorial ones, if no candidate receives over 50% of the vote, the top two polling candidates will compete on the November ballot.

    Does my county have more information about local ballot measures and candidates?

    Each county’s elections department has a nonpartisan guide to local measures and a list of registered candidates for each contest, from presidential hopefuls to potential supervisors and council members. Those guides and lists are linked below:

    San Benito County has no local measures registered on the ballot for the primary.

    The Secretary of State’s Office provides a State Voter Information Guide, which has information on state propositions and candidates. It’s also available via CD or downloadableMP3 file. There’s also a large print guide available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.

    For copies of the CD or large-print versions of the State Voter Information Guide, free of charge, call the Secretary of State’s Elections Division at (916) 657-2166 or request them via the Secretary of State’s website.

    You can also download the audio version of the State Voter Information Guide on the Secretary of State website.

    I haven’t registered to vote yet. Can I still do that?

    Yes, but you must do so in-person. You must also meet all the requirements to be a registered voter in California:

    • At least 18 as of March 5
    • U.S. citizen
    • California resident
    • Not in prison for a felony
    • Not deemed mentally incompetent by a court judge 

    Parolees in California are eligible to vote, thanks to Proposition 17, which California voters passed in 2020.

    You can complete the same-day registration process at some vote centers even before the election. You can look up where the process is offered through the Secretary of State’s early voting informational website.

    You can also register to vote on Election Day at your local polling place, which you can also look up on the Secretary of State’s website.

    How can I vote early?

    All registered California voters should have received a vote-by-mail ballot now. You can also request one in-person at an early voting center through Feb. 27.

    There’s two ways to vote early with your ballot: You can mail it back using the included return envelope, which is postage paid. Or you can drop off your ballot at an outdoors, 24-hour drop box, or an indoors drop box inside county and city buildings. You can also vote in-person at an open vote center.

    KAZU has created a database where you can search up places to vote early in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties — whether through dropping off your ballot or heading to a vote center. You can use the search bar on the upper left of the table to search for locations in your city or county.

    Voters in California aren’t limited to the nearest drop box — as long as you place your ballot in any Californian drop box, it will still be counted toward the election.

    If you prefer to look at the county sites for drop box and vote center locations, they’re linked below:

    Monterey County also added two additional places to vote early. The Big Sur Library also has a ballot drop box:

    • CVS PruneTree Shopping Center (17601 Vierra Canyon Rd, Prunedale): Open Thursday, Feb. 29, 2-8 p.m.
    • Big Sur Library (Highway 1 at Ripplewood Resort): Open Saturday - March 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

    Martinez with Monterey County told KAZU she recommends that voters who are planning to mail back their ballot do so no later than Feb. 27.

    “If you’re a little too trusting of the USPS putting a postmark on there, and maybe it doesn’t … after the election, we’re not able to count it,” she cautioned. “So we really encourage our voters who are using that USPS method, which is a lot of them, to turn it in early.”

    After Feb. 27, she encourages dropping off your mail-in ballot at a drop box instead to ensure it will be counted.

    Drop boxes will be open through 8 p.m. on March 5 and are emptied on a regular basis. If one is full or damaged, you can call your respective county’s elections department:

    • Monterey County: 831-796-1499 
    • San Benito County: 831-636-4016
    • Santa Cruz County: 831-454-2060 (voter hotline number)

    How do I check that my ballot was received if I put it in a drop box?

    Everyone in California can sign up to receive email and text notifications from Ballottrax. The service does not change your voter registration data. To sign up, you’ll need the first and last name, residential address and ZIP code you listed in your voter registration.

    “Once your county begins processing your ballot and marks it as counted or not counted, you will receive an update on the status of your ballot,” the service’s FAQ reads.

    Martinez, the registrar for Monterey County Elections, said the state has an extensive system in place that ensures the security of mail-in voting — including making sure “100% of our envelopes are human-verified”, even if you send in or drop your ballot off from a different county.

    “There’s a unique identifier for each voter in our system,” she said. “That unique identifier is on the outside of the envelope that is sent to the voters to vote on, because all of our active voters receive a ballot, in Monterey County and in the state of California. So we're able to match the ballot directly to the voter.”

    Can I still vote on Election Day?


    You can drop your ballot off at a drop box any time before 8 p.m. on March 5. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive at a county office no later than March 12 to be counted.

    You can also vote in-person at a polling place near you, which you can look up on the California Secretary of State website. Your assigned polling place is also on your ballot material — check your voter information guide and your ballot cover page.

    Vote centers that opened for early voting will also be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. As long as you’re in line by 8 p.m., you can still cast your ballot.

    For locations of those centers by county:

    I’m homeless. How do I vote?

    You can register to vote in-person at a vote center or polling place with an address, intersection or landmark closest to your location — for example, Clock Tower or Benchlands in Santa Cruz County.

    You can also use your last known voting address until you have a new address, per the 1988 court case Walters v. Weed.

    How do I get my ballot in another language?

    In Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, all vote centers will offer Spanish ballots or accessible ballots via tablet.

    Vote center locations:

    Santa Cruz County voters can also call specific language hotlines to request translated materials or ask election-related questions:

    • Spanish: 831-454-2060
    • Chinese: 831-454-5137
    • Tagalog: 831-454-5135

    For Monterey County, there are specific polling places offering ballots in three Asian languages — Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese:

    • Korean: Epiphany Lutheran Church (425 Carmel Ave., Marina)
    • Tagalog:
      • Kammann School (521 Rochex Ave., Salinas)
      • Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd (580 Larkin St., Salinas)
      • Oldemeyer Center (986 Hilby Ave., Seaside)
    • Vietnamese:
      • La Paz School (1300 N Sanborn Rd., Salinas)
      • Dr. Oscar F. Loya School (1505 Cougar Dr., Salinas)
      • Epiphany Lutheran Church (425 Carmel Ave., Marina)
      • Marina Community Center (211 Hillcrest Ave., Marina)
      • Nancy Dodd Center (3043 MacArthur Dr., Marina)

    Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, a legal organization serving Asian American communities, has also made a number of voting rights resources available in several languages. They include Spanish, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Tagalog, Hmong, Korean, Khmer, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Hindi and Japanese.

    How can I get my access needs met when voting?

    You can call Disability Rights California’s Voting Hotline at (888) 569-7955 for help making an access plan for voting. Assistive technology is provided at polling places and allows assistive devices like the sip & puff, a stylus and more.

    The organization also has information about how to vote if you can’t sign your name and if you experience a medical emergency and can’t vote in person.

    Curbside voting is also available at vote centers, and voters can call an election worker to bring a ballot to the voters.

    California voters can request a remote accessible vote-by-mail system any time before 8 p.m. on March 5. The provided ballot is compatible with screen readers, but you will need your own printer and the ability to return it by mail, at a voting location, or at a drop box.

    In Monterey County, you can do that by calling 831-796-1499 or emailing

    In San Benito County, you can do that when reviewing your information on My Voter Status, by calling the toll-free number 877-777-4017, or emailing

    In Santa Cruz County, you can complete an online form.

    What should I bring to vote?

    If you’re voting for the first time, it’s a good idea to bring a form of identification, such as your driver’s license, your sample ballot booklet or a copy of a recent utility bill. You can see a complete list of acceptable forms of identification on the Secretary of State website or learn more by calling 800-345-8683.

    Can I get paid time off work to vote?

    Yes — employers are required by state law to offer up to two hours paid time off for voting. You can take more unpaid time off if needed. They must also post a notice about offering paid leave for elections within 10 days of the election.

    What if I want to request a ballot with a new party preference? Or no party preference?

    Because it’s past the vote-by-mail registration deadline, you’ll need to speak with poll workers in-person at a polling place or vote center.

    You can ask for a no party preference ballot with either American Independent, Democratic, or Libertarian party presidential candidates. But if you want to vote for a presidential candidate from the Green, Peace and Freedom, or Republican party, you’ll have to re-register to vote under that specific party when you’re at a polling place or vote center.

    I lost my ballot. What do I do?

    The deadline to request a new ballot is Feb. 27, but you must do so in-person. After that, you can still vote provisionally in-person on or before Election Day at a polling place or vote center. After elections officials have verified that you’re registered to vote in the county you live in and you haven’t already voted, your provisional ballot will be counted.

    If you stop by a vote center, poll workers can help you with a provisional ballot.

    For more information, you can contact the elections department for each respective county:

    Where can I check for and when can I expect the results of the election?

    Places to check results for state races and county races are linked below and will be updated starting March 5:

    The Associated Press will be tracking and reporting the results for the federal races, including the presidential primary.

    The first batch of results posted on election night will come shortly after 8 p.m. when polls close.

    Those are from pre-processed vote-by-mail and early voting ballots, which counties are allowed to begin processing before March 5. Voters who vote in-person at polling places and vote centers on March 5 will have their votes counted and processed next, with those results added to vote counts later on election night.

    “There’s a certain percentage of polling place voters that is shown throughout the night, and we don’t leave here until all of our poll results are in,” Martinez with Monterey County said. That excludes voters who use polling places and vote centers as vote-by-mail ballot drop-off locations, whose ballots still need to be processed.

    “We have a canvass period that runs either 28 to 30 days after the election, depending on the type of election, and we process vote-by-mail ballots … as quickly as we can,” she added.

    That canvass period means some tight races could be decided days or weeks after March 5.

    “We're very flexible with our voters [in California],” Martinez said. “But with that flexibility, there's a complexity that comes from it for the election administration process. And so that's what takes time after the fact. We are ensuring that every vote that can be counted is counted, and we are maintaining the integrity of the vote itself.”

    Doug McKnight contributed reporting.

    Janelle Salanga is a reporter for KAZU. Prior to joining the station, they covered Sacramento communities and helped start the SacramenKnow newsletter at CapRadio.
    Related Content