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The Hill reported that current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan (Republican — Wisconsin) said that the California election system “just defies logic to me.”

Here is an explanation of how California’s election system functions.

Voter Registration in California

Ballotpedia states that to vote in California, an individual must be a U.S. citizen and California resident. A voter must be at least 18 years of age on Election Day.

On October 10, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill No.1461. It is called “Voter Registration: California New Motor Voter Program”. Here are a few key points of this bill (which is now a law):

This bill would require the Secretary of State and the Department of Motor Vehicles to establish the California New Motor Voter Program for the purpose of increasing opportunities for voter registration by any person who is qualified to be a voter. Under the program, after the Secretary of State certifies that certain enumerated conditions are satisfied, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be required to electronically provide to the Secretary of State the records of each person who is issued an original or renewal of a drivers license or state identification card or who provides the department with a change of address, as specified.

The person’s motor vehicle records would then constitute a completed affidavit of registration and the person would be registered to vote, unless that person affirmatively declined to be registered to vote during a transaction with the department, the department did not represent to the Secretary of State that the person attested that he or she meets all voter eligibility requirements, as specified, or the Secretary of State determines that the person is ineligible to vote. The bill would require the Secretary of State to adopt regulations to implement the program, as specified.

The bill requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide the Secretary of State the following information about the person who has been determined to be eligible for voter registration and voting:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Either their residence, mailing address, or both
  • Digitized signature
  • Telephone number (if available)
  • Email address (if available)
  • Language preference
  • Political party preference
  • Whether the person chooses to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter
  • Whether the person affirmatively declined to become registered to vote during a transaction with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • A notation that the applicant has attested that they meet all voter eligibility requirements, including United States citizenship

California allows for online voter registration. To register online, a person must first visit the California Secretary of State’s official Online Voter Registration website. The person needs to provide the following information:

  • Their California drivers license or California identification card number
  • The last four digits of their social security number
  • Their date of birth

A California identification card is often used by people who do not drive. It is a commonly used form of identification for people who are disabled and whose disabilities prevent them from being able to drive.

To apply for a California identification card, a person must provide:

  • Acceptable identity document
  • True full name
  • Social security number
  • Proof of California residency
  • Fingerprint image (to be taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • Photograph (to be taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • Prior ID card(s) in their possession, if any.

Individual states make their own rules about whether or not convicted felons can vote.

In California, a person with a criminal history can register to vote if they are:

  • In county jail: serving a misdemeanor sentence (a misdemeanor sentence never affects a person’s right to vote); Because jail time is a condition of probation (misdemeanor or felony); Serving a felony jail sentence; or Awaiting trial
  • On probation
  • On mandatory supervision
  • On post-release community supervision
  • On federal supervised release
  • A person with a juvenile wardship adjudication

In California, a person with a criminal history cannot register and vote if they are:

  • Currently imprisoned in State prison or Federal prison
  • Currently serving a state prison felony sentence in a county jail or other correctional facility
  • Currently in county jail awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison for a felony conviction
  • Currently in county jail for a parole violation
  • Currently on parole with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The California Secretary of State website says: “Once you are done with parole your right to vote is restored, but you must re-register online at the California Secretary of State’s website or by filling out a paper voter registration card.”

In 2016, California’s “Pre-register at sixteen. Vote at eighteen.” rule went into effect. It does not lower the voting age to sixteen-years-old. The purpose is to make sure that teenagers are ready to vote when they turn eighteen.

Here is some more information about that from the California Secretary of State’s website:

Who can pre-register to vote?

You can pre-register to vote in California if you are 16 or 17 years old and meet the following requirements:

  • A United States citizen and a resident of California.
  • Not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony
  • Not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court

How do I pre-register?

To pre-register to vote you must complete a voter registration application online or on paper.

Can an iPad, tablet, or smartphone be used to fill out California’s online voter registration application?


What happens after I pre-register to vote?

After you pre-register to vote you will receive a postcard confirmation notifying you that your application was received and processed.

What happens when I turn 18?

When you turn 18 years old, the county elections office will mail a confirmation postcard to you stating that your voter registration is now active. At the time of the next election, your county elections official will automatically mail your election related materials to your registered address. If your confirmation postcard is returned undeliverable, possibly because you have moved, the county elections office may inactivate your record until a new Voter Registration Application is submitted.

How to Vote in California

One way to vote is to visit your assigned polling place on Election Day. Ballotpedia states that, in California, polls are open from 7:00 a.m. — 8:00 p.m.

The most reliable way to find your polling place is to visit the California Secretary of State website. There is a box where a registered voter can enter their registered voting address. It will reveal where that person’s polling place is located.

Polling places in California are required to open at exactly 7:00 a.m. Poll workers must announce loudly “The polls are open.”

Polling places must remain open continuously until closing time at 8:00 p.m. At that time, workers must loudly proclaim, “The polls are closed.” No voters who arrive after the polls close may cast a vote. However, as Business Insider reported in 2016, many (if not all) states have laws on the books requiring every person in line when the polls close to be able to vote.

The California Secretary of State website requires California employers to provide employees up to two hours off to vote if they do not have enough time to do so during non-work hours.

Workers can take up to two hours off without a loss of pay. The law requires workers to give their employers two working days’ notice before the election if they will need to take time off to vote.

Another option is early voting. Some counties in California offer early voting at a few locations before Election Day. An eligible voter should contact their county elections office to see if they offer early voting.

Early voting looks just like voting on Election Day. The voter arrives at the designated polling place and casts their vote in person.

California also offers a vote-by-mail option. It is a good option for people who don’t want to try and get off work in order to vote, and who do not live in an area where they can do early voting.

All vote-by-mail ballots are counted. In general, the total vote — or outcome of an election — that is declared in the news is done before the vote-by-mail ballots have been tallied. This is why the winner of an election may change between election night and …. however long it takes to count the vote-by-mail ballots.

California does not offer the following voting options:

  • Voters cannot cast their vote online in California
  • Voters cannot cast a vote by text in California

California Primary

In June of 2012, California started using the Top Two Candidate Open Primary system for statewide offices. All candidates for a given state or congressional office will be listed on a single Primary Election ballot. Voters can vote for the candidate of their choice for these offices. The top two candidates, as determined by the voters, will advance to the General Election in November.

The two candidates who receive the most votes qualify for the general election. It does not matter if one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast; the top two vote-getters always advance to the general election. Even if only one or two candidates are running for a Top Two office, there will still be a primary for that election.

Because candidates are not appearing on the ballot representing a party, it is possible for two candidates from the same party to be the top two vote-getters — who advance to the general election.

In short, the results of a Top Two system could potentially result in: one Republican and one Democrat; two Republicans; two Democrats, one candidate from a major party and one from a smaller party; two candidates from smaller parties.

Top Two Primaries in California are held for these offices:

  • United States Senators
  • Congressional Representatives
  • State Senators
  • Assembly members
  • Governor
  • Lt. Governor
  • State Treasurer
  • Secretary of State
  • State Attorney General.

Top Two primaries are not held for elections of President and Vice President or Political Party County Central Committees or County Counsels.

California General Election

In the California General Election, voters can vote for the following offices:

  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House
  • State Senate
  • State Assembly
  • Governor
  • California Statewide Offices
  • Other Statewide Offices
  • Local Government
  • President / Vice President (if the General Election is not a Midterm Election)
  • Various ballot measures

A change was made for 2020 that will make California’s voting in a primary election play a larger role than it did in the past. California’s 2016 primary election was held on June 7, 2016. The 2020 California primary will be held on March 3, 2020. That means California will be among the states voting on “Super Tuesday”.

This blog was originally posted on Medium on November 30, 2019.

The California Election System – Just the Facts is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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