What You Need to Know About Voting By Mail in November Election

A hand holds an "I Voted by Mail" sticker against an American flag background.

Photo by lakshmiprasad S, iStock.

As a response to the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom in June signed a bill that requires California to send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the state. Vote-by-mail is not new, but since more U.S. voters than ever before will cast their ballots this way in 2020, knowing how to do so is vital for all citizens.

CSUN communication studies professors Jessica Baty-McMillan and John Kephart III are working to encourage Matadors to exercise their democratic right to vote, such as registering before the Oct. 19 deadline and having the necessary know-how before the Nov. 3 election. They spoke with CSUN Today to help navigate some queries and concerns the CSUN community might have about vote-by-mail and the presidential election in general.

Here are some of your questions, answered:

Q: How does vote-by-mail work?

Baty-McMillan: Once you’re registered to vote in the state of California, you’re automatically sent a mail-in ballot. It comes with your voter guide — everything you need to make an informed decision. You fill out the ballot, which looks exactly like the one you might fill out at the in-person voting center, and you can mail it in any time before or on Election Day (Nov. 3). You can also check the status of your mail-in ballot online, if you’re unsure about whether it went through.

Kephart: In addition, you can return it in person if you go to a polling place. … You don’t have to wait in line. You can walk up and drop [your ballot] off in one of the official collection [boxes]. Sometimes, counties will also have ballot drop boxes [at government buildings] — places where you can drop off your ballot directly.

You can also authorize someone to drop off your ballot on your behalf, as long as they’re not getting paid on a per-ballot basis. There’s an authorization section on the outside of your ballot [that you fill out and sign]. So, if you can’t make it, you can have someone else do it.

Q: Why should I vote-by-mail?

Kephart: The motivation behind the governor’s executive order [and subsequent state bill AB860, which he signed into law] … is they want to make sure that we don’t have to make folks choose between their health (voting in person) and democracy.

Also, one of the biggest advantages, in terms of democracy, is that vote-by-mail dramatically increases participation. States that have compulsory vote-by-mail — Oregon and four other states (Colorado, Hawaii, Washington and Utah) — do [all] of their elections by mail. They have, sometimes, as high as 65 or 70 percent voter participation. … According to the California Secretary of State, the turnout in the 2016 presidential election [in our state] was 47 percent.

Baty-McMillan: You can really sit down and study [the ballot], spend a lot of time on it and fill it out with ease.

One of the reasons people like to go to the polls, too, is to get the “I Voted” sticker. But now, they send you the sticker with the mail-in ballot, so you’ve got your sticker!

Q: Can I drop my ballot off in or near Northridge?

Kephart: The L.A. County Registrar’s office has that info for current municipal elections, so I imagine they will post that info there as well.

Q: How do I vote if English isn’t my first language?

Baty-McMillan: When you register to vote, they ask you what language you prefer for your documents.

Kephart: Alex Padilla, the current California Secretary of State, also maintains a Voter Education page, and they’ve got information and help in 10 different languages.

Q: Can my mail-in ballot be tampered with?

Kephart: With any voting system, there is an inherent risk. If we use electronic machines, they can be hacked; and if we use paper ballots, they can be stolen. However, research demonstrates that there is almost no voter or election fraud of any type in the United States to begin with. About 0.0004% of captive ballots [inside the ballot boxes or through the postal service] lead to voter fraud. So, overall the fears (or rumors) of voter fraud are far more prevalent than the actual risk.

[For security], if you’re voting by mail, sometimes they will do signature matching to identify the validity of your ballot. … So, you might want to check and see what your signature is on your voter registration information.

Q: Can I still vote in person in November?

Baty-McMillan: Even if you get the mail-in ballot at your home, no matter what, you can always go to the polling place and vote in person.

Kephart: You can mask up and drop off your ballot [in person] … assuming we still have polling places open. Currently, they’re saying we will, but who knows what will happen in November.

Q: How do I vote-by-mail if I’m away from my usual address due to shelter-in-place, moving homes, etc.?

Kephart: Absentee voting is for people who can’t be in their own location for the election but … still want to vote for state representatives, local ballot initiatives and congressional representatives in their home district. You may still have to apply to vote by absentee, even though California has vote-by-mail. They’re going to look at the address on your voter registration … and then send [the ballot] to that address.

Baty-McMillan: Once you apply for that absentee ballot, [your county] would send you a ballot that looks very much like the California vote-by-mail ballot.

Kephart: If you’ve moved, you need to update your voter registration. … You can check the address that they have on file until the morning [of Election Day, Nov. 3], but there is a deadline to register — it’s 15 days before the election, so Oct. 19. If students have moved, they still have plenty of time to register at whichever address they anticipate living at on Election Day.

Otherwise, if you don’t do that, you can cast a provisional ballot, which means you can cast your ballot, then they’ll check to make sure you’re properly registered to vote before they count it.

Q: Where can I get more information about voting this year?

Baty-McMillan: For the local elections, I really like VotersEdge.org. On that website, you can type in your ZIP code and find out all your specific local initiatives and propositions, and then it kind of branches out from there to the federal election.

Kephart: For technical information, the California Secretary of State website is the best. Registration deadlines, how to register to vote, what particular things folks are going to see on the ballot — all those technical questions will be on there. I also like the League of Women Voters, which generally has a good, nonpartisan analysis.

We also have a civic engagement project that Jessica and I have been working on at CSUN, called CSUN Act Now.

Baty-McMillan: [With CSUN Act Now], we are working to increase overall CSUN civic and voter engagement. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) report, 33% more CSUN students voted in 2018 than in 2014. We really hope to match or increase that number this year.

We’re going to be spending the whole month leading up to Election Day having virtual events for the CSUN community to get engaged and learn about all the ballot initiatives. … It’s all about getting people registered and giving them all the information they need to make an informed decision — and use their voices to inspire and encourage others to participate in the democratic process. We’ll be having some (debate-watch) screenings and inviting local candidates to come speak. We hope the CSUN community will join us.

, , , , ,