Elections FAQs


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.


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.

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. 


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 eSlate 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.


eSlate Voting FAQs

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

The optical scan system has served San Mateo County well, but when the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, they mandated that counties upgrade their voting systems with accessible voting devices for people with disabilities by the first federal election in 2006. The Act also prohibits the use of any system that does not permit the voter to view and change a vote at the polling place. San Mateo County has chosen to purchase the eSlate voting system to use in all future elections. 

Why did San Mateo County choose the eSlate voting system?

The new eSlate Voting System has the three qualities that are essential in a voting system to meet the new federal requirements: it is accessible, secure and easy to use. It also allows the voter to see and review a printed paper record of the votes they are casting or to confirm their choices by way of an audio playback. The printed copy is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot.

How was the eSlate Verifiable Ballot Option (VBO) system chosen?

The San Mateo County Elections Office reviewed all systems under consideration for certification by the California Secretary of State. The eSlate was certified by the federal and state testing authorities. A series of electronic voting technology demonstrations were held and survey results from the users were collected to help make the decision.

How much did the new system cost?

The total cost for the Hart InterCivic voting system was $10,453,516. This provided San Mateo County with an election management system, eSlate voting equipment for the polls (2,100 units total), a new voter registration system, the hardware, software, licenses and support, accessibility devices, storage caddies, voting booth cases, tax and shipping. Federal funds dedicated to voting system replacement under the Help America Vote Act and funds from California’s Proposition 41 will reimburse the County for most of the expense.

Is the new system based on a touch screen, like some ATMs?

No. The voter uses a rotary wheel to navigate through the ballot and select his or her vote. This interface is based on medical research and was chosen because it is more durable and not prone to calibration issues as in touch screen systems and gives voters with disabilities a range of accessories to support different needs. The eSlate has a paper trail that allows voters to confirm their choices on a printed record. The printed copy is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot or remove it from the unit.

I have never been able to vote without someone helping me. Will someone be there to help me with this new system?

Yes. Someone will be there to help you, but the system is designed to help you vote without assistance. There is an audio ballot reader that can help if you have problems with your eyesight or difficulties reading the ballot for other reasons and there is a “Help” button that provides on-screen assistance if you have a question. If you press the “Help” button twice, an Vote Center Representative will come.

How can we be sure this system is working correctly?

Before any vote is cast, the machines are tested to make sure they work as expected. This process, known as Logic & Accuracy (L&A) testing, allows Vote Center Representative to be sure votes are counted as they are cast. Vote Center Representatives have always and will always ensure votes are recorded correctly. Comprehensive system testing and validation are conducted before every election. After the election, the Registration & Elections Division conducts the canvass, or the one percent 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 equipment and software—built into the election cycle.

How do I know that the way the electronic voting system recorded my vote is the same way I intended to cast my vote?

Voters are able to confirm their electronic vote on the printed record called the Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT). The voter compares their ballot with the VVPAT and can make changes before casting their ballot. The VVPAT is the voter’s confirmation that the electronic votes were cast correctly. In the case of a recount, Vote Centers are required by state law to use the paper record as the official vote tally.

 Does the system have a paper trail?

Yes. The eSlate has a Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT is a complete record of the voter’s ballot choices and is used to verify the election results and is the official record used in recounts. The eSlate prints a paper copy of the voter’s choices so that they can verify that their electronic vote matches the paper record prior to casting their ballot. This copy is printed in the selected language of the voter and is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot. Once the voter casts their ballot electronically, the paper rolls up out of view and into the secure printer box so that the next voter cannot see the previous voter’s selections.The paper rolls from the printer component of each voting system are collected and stored for 22 months in the case of a federal election and six months for a state/local election as regulated by California State law.

What if a recount is necessary?

The paper audit trail is used in the case of a recount. The eSlate provides Vote Center Representatives with a paper record of the votes cast.  This cast vote record provides a means of recounting votes and ensuring that results are accurate.

How do I know my votes are private and that there is not a database in the computer somewhere that records how I have voted?

There is no way for the system to tie your vote to you. When you vote, there is no identifying information recorded with your vote. You will be given a randomly generated four-digit access code that tells the eSlate which ballot races you should receive based on your precinct. The access code is not associated with your name. Therefore, it is impossible to trace your vote.

What if I change my mind or make a mistake after I have pressed the “Enter” button?

A voter can change any vote at any time until the final “Cast Ballot” button is pressed and you see the American flag waving on the screen. Up to that point, to change a vote, just use the wheel to highlight the candidate you want to vote for and then press the “Enter” button. The earlier vote is erased and the new vote is recorded. Just follow the onscreen instructions for guidance in making changes to your ballot before you finally cast your ballot.

What if I want to skip a contest?

It is your decision and right to choose not to vote in any race. Just use the wheel to scroll past the race you want to skip. After you have voted in the last contest on the ballot, a ballot summary screen will appear listing all the choices you have made. It will also let you know if you missed voting in any race. You will see a list of the votes you have cast and any skipped races will be noted with “No Selection” highlighted in red. You can either go back and vote in the skipped race, or press the “Cast Ballot” button to advance to the paper verification page. You may then confirm your choices including the races you skipped and press “Cast Ballot” the final time to record your vote.

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

The system will not let you vote twice unless the contest allows two or more options. It is programmed to prevent overvoting, the term used when someone accidentally selects more than the permitted number of votes in a race. If you change your mind and select a different choice, the system automatically removes your former selection and marks your new one. If you want to erase your vote and make no other selection, just highlight your current selection and press “Enter” to deselect that choice.

How do I know that my vote has been cast?

Whenever a voter presses the “Cast Ballot” button and the waving American flag appears and the printer displays the “Ballot Accepted” message, the vote is cast and counted. If you are listening to the audio headset, your vote has been cast when you hear the message “Your vote has been accepted.”

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

No. Your vote cannot be lost once you have pressed “Cast Ballot” and see the waving American flag. Your votes are stored in three separate electronic locations with non-volatile memory as well as the paper copy.  All data is protected and cannot be lost in the unlikely event that the system fails. The system also has a battery backup that immediately engages if an electrical failure should occur. The batteries last for 18 hours of continuous use.


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.


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.