Be Counted: How To Return Your Mail-In Ballot Or Vote In-Person

Oct 8, 2020

Early voting began this week in California and mail-in ballots started landing in mailboxes. Besides the important decisions you’ll make on candidate races, ballot props and, of course, the next president, you also have to figure out how to cast your ballot.

COVID-19 has significantly changed how the November 2020 election will work -- most notably, all registered voters are getting a ballot in the mail. But just because your ballot arrived in the mail doesn’t mean you have to mail it back; there are multiple ways to return it. On top of that, you can still vote in-person if you’d like. 

Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County’s chief elections official, is back to answer more questions. Scroll down to find links that are helpful to all Monterey Bay area voters.

 

So, what are the different ways you can return your mail-in ballot?

 

Gail Pellerin (GP): I know there are lots of folks that have concerns over the postal services and we have been contacting our postal reps and they assure us that they're set up and ready to handle the volume of mail. But for those who would rather drop it off, we're going to have ballot drop boxes located throughout the county. We're going to have 15 of them that are available 24/7. Most of them are drive-up so you can just drive up and drop that ballot off and we pick up those boxes daily. 

 

Side Note: Ballot drop boxes across Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties are now open. California voters can return their ballot to any drop box or voting location in the state. 

 

GP: If you want to actually come in in-person and hand it to somebody, you can walk into any of the city clerk's offices as long as they're open. Of course, our office is open and then we're going to have in-person voting locations set up throughout the county. We're not having our traditional polling sites due to COVID because we need to have social distancing and we have fewer people who are able to work at the voting locations. So we're having these mega locations and any voter can go to any location and they can drop off their ballot there as well. We're going to set it up so there’s going to be somebody outside the voting location with the ballot box that you can easily drop your ballot off there. 

And then, of course, if you want to mail it, you're welcome to do so. And what the law says is it needs to be postmarked on or before November 3. So what my advice on the postmark is, if you are putting it in the mail close to November 3, walk it into a post office and have the postal clerk give it that cancel stamp so you can see that it's been postmarked on or before November 3. Postage is paid. So you don't have to hunt for a stamp.

Erika Mahoney (EM): There's a new law in California that gives election offices 17 days after the election to count your vote if it's postmarked on or before November 3. That's more time than usual. How is that helpful to you?

GP: So, it’s helpful for the voter. With this new law that was enacted because of COVID, giving the post office more time, I think that voters should be very confident that as long as it's postmarked on or before November 3 that we should be good to get it. 

So not every voter is in town. We may have voters who are out of town on business or helping a family member or, you know, we could have our [wildfire] evacuees who actually have a second home somewhere else. I've got one family that's out of state because they have a home there. So they are living there temporarily. And so their option is to mail it. They're not going to be able to drive it to a drop box. And I reassured them, as long as they get it postmarked, you know, walk it into that post office, get that postal stamp on there, that it's been received, that it should get here with plenty of time.

EM: If you prefer to vote in person, you can still do that. What are the reasons why someone would consider voting in person?

In-person voters in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties have access to this tablet, which allows voters with a disability to vote independently and privately. The tablet also has ballots in different languages. Pictured here - a tablet at the Monterey County Elections Department.
Credit Monterey County Elections Department

GP: Some voters just prefer it, they just like to actually look that election official in the eye and hand them the ballot and they feel good about that process. So, by all means, you're welcome to do that. We also will have the tablet at every one of our voting locations. And the tablet allows a voter with a disability to vote independently and privately. The tablet also has a Spanish ballot. So we are sending our Spanish voters a Spanish facsimile of the ballot. That will be a separate mailing from the ballot. But if they would prefer to come in and have the ballot on the tablet that's Spanish, they're welcome to do that. 

And, some will lose their ballot or, you know, make an error and need to get a replacement ballot. So by all means, they'll be open for that as well. We're really trying to flatten that voting curve, which is why we're open four days -- Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday at most locations. Voters need to plan accordingly and November 3 we're actually calling the last day to vote. It's no longer that only day where people can do this. It's important to plan ahead and vote early.

Early voting is already underway at some locations across the Monterey Bay area:

Beginning Halloween, October 31, all voting locations will open in Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Any voter can go to any location in their county:  

On Election Day, November 3, all polling places will open in Monterey County:

Remember - If you decide to vote in-person, bring your unused mail-in ballot with you. A poll worker will exchange it for a polling place ballot.

 

COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place at all voting locations, including social distancing and mask requirements. 

The Santa Cruz County Elections Dept. plans to have an app that will allow voters to see what the wait times are for voting locations. Due to the need for social distancing, if you show up to a polling place and poll workers can’t let you in, they’ll take your phone number and text you when it’s your turn.

Monterey County Elections also plans to take phone numbers and contact you when it’s your turn if polling places reach capacity.