Updated March 1, 2020

With California’s March 3 primary fast approaching — and a fair amount of confusion in the air — we’ve asked readers to submit their voting questions. We field them here.

Q: How do I register with the Democratic party?

A: You can choose your party when you register to vote here. The last day to register online is Feb. 18, but you can register in person until 8 p.m. on Election Day.


Q: How do I change my party from Republican to Democratic? 

A:  If you want to change your party, you have to re-register. The last day to do this online is Feb. 18. You can check your voter status here. Head to the Secretary of State’s website and complete the form here. Be sure to take a look at our voting video here


Q: I’m registered as nonpartisan, and permanently vote by mail. I missed the date to register to vote in the Democratic primary by mail. Can I still vote for the Democratic primary in person early or on Election Day? I live in Oakland.

A: It’s not too late, but it’s probably best to contact the registrar’s office directly.


Q: Can I vote by mail? 

Can I vote by mail

A: Yes. In California, any registered voter can choose to vote by mail. If you want to apply by mail, the deadline is Feb. 25. If you choose to vote by mail the week before Election Day, you need to apply in-person at your county election office. You can check your voter status here.   


Q: Can “no party preference” voters vote for a Republican congressional candidate, without changing parties?

A: Yes. For statewide, legislative and congressional races, California uses the top-two system so party preference doesn’t matter. But, to vote for a Republican presidential candidate, the Republican party requires you to be a member.  If you want to change your party, you must re-register. The deadline to register online is Feb. 18, but you can register in person until the end of election day. 

Learn more by watching our voting video here.


Q: Do I need to have a California driver’s license to vote in the presidential primary? I moved back to California  (from South Dakota). I have voted in California before. 

A: If you voted in California and it was still your legal place of residence while you lived out-of-state, you’re in good shape and should still be registered. Check your status here

If you voted out-of-state or changed your permanent address to an out-of-state residence since moving, you’ll need to re-register to vote in California. 

On the online application, you can give the last four digits of your social security number and your street address. Without a California driver’s license or ID, you need to print, sign and mail your voter registration application to your county election office. You can also register in-person at your county election office or at a vote center if you live in one of the 15 counties that participates in the Voter’s Choice Act.


Q:  I lived in Beverly Hills, and I became homeless last year. I’m currently sleeping in my car. On March 3, do I vote in the same place as before I became homeless? 

A: Because Beverly Hills is in Los Angeles County, you can vote at any vote center within the county. That’s because L.A. is one of 15 counties that participates in the Voter’s Choice Act. Californians in those counties can head to any vote center and take care of voting needs like registering to vote or getting a replacement ballot and voting in person. They can also vote 10 days before Election Day.

Learn more about the Voter’s Choice Act here.

If registering online is an option, you have two choices for your home address. You can give a residential address or click, “I do not have a street address.” The registration form then asks you to describe where you live which can include cross streets or landmarks. If you’re staying at a shelter or with someone at their house, you can also use their address.  The Secretary of State’s office recommends being specific when describing where you stay. This ensures you’re given the best election materials for your precinct. 

On your registration form, you can also click “I was previously registered or pre-registered to vote.” That part allows you to fill in old address information and a previous political party preference. Contact your county election office if you have more questions. 


Q: I am a registered voter in California. I will be out of the state during the presidential primary. How do I get a ballot by mail? 

A: You can apply for a vote by mail ballot. The deadline to apply by mail for a ballot is Feb. 25. If you live in one of the 15 counties that participates in the Voter’s Choice Act, you can vote in-person at a vote center up to 10 days before Election Day. 


Q: I am registered as “no party preference,” can I still vote for a Democratic presidential candidate? If not, can I switch my party affiliation? 

A: If you’d like to stay “no party preference,” you will need to request a crossover ballot from your county elections office. If you want to switch your party affiliation, you will have to re-register to vote. The deadline to register online is Feb. 18, but you can register in person until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 


Q: I have recently submitted a new voter registration form switching my party affiliation from Independent to Democratic. How can I confirm this has been received and I am eligible to vote in the primary?

A: You can check your voter status here. You can also contact your county elections office.


Q: What’s on my ballot besides presidential candidates?

A: Voters will elect state and congressional lawmakers. Check out the races to watch in the California Assembly here. For hot state Senate races, click here. Need some guidance on the congressional candidates? Check out those races here.

Voters will also decide the fate of a new Proposition 13. The measure would approve a $15 billion bond to update public schools, community colleges and universities. CalMatters’ education reporter Ricardo Cano explains Prop. 13 in a minute here


Q : I am currently 17, but I will be 18 for the presidential election. Can I vote in the California primary?

A: If you’re 17 on March 3, you can’t vote in the primary. But that might change. For the third time, Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin of South San Francisco has introduced legislation that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primary as long as they are 18 by the general election.

His proposal’s next stop is the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments committee.

For now, if you are 16 or 17, you can pre-register here. As long as you meet all other voting eligibility requirements, your registration will become active once you turn 18.


Q: What happens to my votes/delegates if I vote for someone in the primary/caucus who gets more than 15% but ends up dropping out before the convention?

A: Delegates can follow their heart. Typically, the dropped-out candidate will advise their delegates whom to vote for, but it’s just advice.


Q: Is there a write in option for the primary? I hate having to re-register every four years just so I can get my presidential choice on the ballot then having to re-re-register back to my preferred party for the general election.

A: No. If you want to vote for a Democratic, Libertarian or American Independent presidential candidate, then you need to register with that party or as a  “no party preference” voter. If you opt for “no party preference,” then you’ll need to get a crossover ballot. You can get it through your county election office, or ask for one in person at your polling place. 

If you want to vote for a Republican, Green or Peace and Freedom party candidate, you must register for those parties. Check out our voting video here for more information.


Q: I’m a registered California voter. I’m moving at the end of February from LA County to San Luis Obispo county. How can I vote in the March 3 election without having to drive back to LA? And do I need to re-register to vote at my new address?

A: If San Luis Obispo County will be your new permanent address, you should re-register. You can do that here. You can register online until Feb. 18, but you can register in person until 8 p.m. on Election Day at your polling place. If you consider LA County your permanent address, then you can also vote by mail or head to a voting center 10 days before election day since LA County follows the Voters Choice Act.


Q: I am registered as a Republican.  What do I need to do to vote in the Democratic presidential primary?

A: You’ll need to re-register as a Democrat or as a “no party preference” voter. “No party preference” voters will use a crossover ballot to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. You can get the ballot by calling your county election office or ask for one in person on Election Day at your polling place. If you register as a Democrat, the candidates will already be on your ballot.


Q: If I’m currently away from home at college (still in California) how do I vote?

A: You can vote by mail. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Feb. 25 and you need to fill out this form. Your ballot must be postmarked on or before March 3 and received by your county elections office no later than March 6. If you have any questions, contact your county elections office.


Q: Can I vote in the Democratic primary if I am registered Green Party?

A: To vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, you would need to re-register as a Democrat or as a “no party preference” voter and request a Democratic ballot.


Q: Why is the Democratic party open but not the Republican party?

A: Simply put: Their party. Their rules. Parties are allowed to decide who gets to vote for their candidates. (For more information, check out our voting video here.)

The California Republican party says that since local Republican leaders are also elected in the primary, they want Republicans to vote for those positions. The party says Republican leaders should be chosen by Republicans. The California Democratic party says it wants to be known as a party of inclusion, and allows “no party preference” voters the opportunity to vote for their candidates as a symbol of that inclusion.


Q: I received two election ballots.  One at my office and one at my home. I only want one ballot.  How do I correct this?

A: First you should check your voter status here to see which address you used to register to vote. Then, you can call your county elections office to let them know about the two ballots. You can also verify that your voter information is correct and you receive all voting materials at your preferred address. 


Q: I was registered in San Diego to vote, but I moved to LA and updated my address with both USPS and my voter registration on February 3rd, 2020 on the voter status California government website. I just received my mailed primary ballot for San Diego, do I complete this or will I get a new one that I use for now living in LA? 

A: The Secretary of State’s office recommends first checking your voter status here to be sure your new LA address is updated. If you want to vote in LA County, you shouldn’t use the San Diego ballot. There might have been a delay in processing your new voter information so the old ballot was still sent to you. Once you’ve verified that your voter registration is up to date with your LA information, you can wait for your new ballot to arrive. If you have any concerns, you can also contact your county election office. LA county participates in the Voter’s Choice Act so you have the option of updating your voter registration and receiving a replacement ballot in person at any vote center within the county.


Q: Can California voters who voted early by mail change their vote as long as it is early enough to do so, and if so, how would they go about ensuring that their initial choice is erased so they don’t accidentally get recorded both times and thus vote twice?

A: No. Once you’ve mailed in your ballot, that’s your final choice.

Elections reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this report.

Still have questions? Send them to us using the form below and we’ll answer them here.


California Primary 2020 Voter Guide

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: [email protected], (916) 234-3081.

Elizabeth Castillo

Elizabeth Castillo

Elizabeth is a general assignment reporter for CalMatters. She graduated from Chico State with a bachelor's degree in journalism. While in college at Chico, Elizabeth did internships with the local NPR...