California Election 2020 Guide logo

Come rain, shine, pandemic or crippling recession, California voters can always count on one thing: a very long, very complicated ballot.

Live election results beginning Nov. 3 at 8 p.m

Though the presidential race will gobble up most of the attention, the choice between GOP President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden will be an easy one for most California voters. The outcome statewide isn’t in doubt — nor was it before Biden picked California’s U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. Trump won less than a third of the vote here in 2016, polls continue to show Biden leading with more than two-thirds of state voters, and a Republican presidential nominee hasn’t carried the state in more than three decades. 

But Californians will make other vital decisions:

  • Deciding the fate of 12 statewide ballot measures that seek to raise taxes or lower them; regulate some industries or ban others; and expand voting rights, tighten criminal sentencing and resurrect affirmative action. 
  • Determining the makeup of the Legislature, now controlled by a gigamajority of Democrats.
  • Either affirming the sweeping gains Democrats made in California’s congressional delegation, or driving back 2018’s “blue wave.”

If you have questions about how to register and/or vote, we're answering them below. Confused about what’s at stake, which races to watch, how to vote during a pandemic or why you’re yet again voting on kidney dialysis? Consider this guide your one-stop-shop.

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Presidental Race

How California is influencing the presidential election

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State Assembly

The races to watch

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State Senate

The races to watch

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The races to watch

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What do I need to know about voting?
Important Dates



Last day to register to vote online



Last day to request mail-in ballot (if you didn’t automatically get one)



last day to vote, either by mail or in person


It’s a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic: All registered and active California voters should receive a ballot in the mail by Oct. 12. If you are among the 72% of voters used to voting by mail, proceed as usual. If you’re used to going to the polls, you can still submit your ballot in person — either at a designated drop off point or a polling place. Your questions, answered below.

How do I register?

You can register online before Oct. 19. The state will try to find your signature on file with the DMV. If it doesn’t have it, you may have to print out the application and mail it in. And if you missed the October deadline, don’t panic. You can still register at your local county elections office, polling place, or vote center. You can also call your county registrar’s office.

Do I have to vote by mail?

No. You can still vote in person if you like. But depending on where you live, your county may have a reduced number of polling places. Find your closest polling place or drop box.

Does everyone get a ballot in the mail this time?

Not everyone. To keep potential coronavirus-carriers from crowding into polling places this year, the state opted to send every registered and active voter a ballot. If you aren’t registered — or if you’ve moved and haven’t voted in a while — you probably won’t get one. Check your registration status and make sure it’s accurate.

What if I don’t get a ballot in the mail by Oct. 12?

There isn’t a hard deadline for when a ballot must arrive in your mailbox. But state law requires county elections officials to begin mailing them out on October 5 — that’s a Monday — and they have five days to get them all in the mail. If you still haven’t received your ballot by the following Monday — Oct. 12 — and you were expecting one, reach out to your county registrar’s office.

More answers to voters’ questions: 

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CalMatters Coverage

Your CalMatters General Election 2020 voter guide is a team effort, made possible by the following:

Web developers: Lo Bénichou and John Osborn D’Agostino

Designer: Rita Liu

Video producer: Byrhonda Lyons with Jacob Ohara

Lead writer: Ben Christopher

Proposition reporters: Byrhonda Lyons (14), Ben Christopher (15 and 20), Mikhail Zinshteyn (16), Elizabeth Castillo (17), Elizabeth Aguilera (18), Matt Levin (19), Jackie Botts (21), Lauren Hepler (22), Ana B. Ibarra (23), Laurel Rosenhall (24), Nigel Duara (25).

Photo editing: Anne Wernikoff

Web producers: Elizabeth Castillo and Liliana Michelena

Editor: Vicki Haddock