County of Sonoma, California
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I think I am registered to vote—how can I find out?
You have a couple of options to find out if you are registered:
  1. Use the Registered Voter Lookup on the Registrar of Voters website.
  2. Call the Registrar of Voters Office.

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When do I need to re-register?
You must re-register any time you change your name, residence address, or political party. After you register, the Registrar of Voters Office will mail you a confirmation of your registration.

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Can I find out what districts I live in?
Yes: the Registrar of Voters has a Precinct & District Lookup. You may call the Registrar of Voters Office if you have questions about the districts in which you reside.

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I did not get any information about the election. Can you send me some?
First, confirm you are registered at your current residence address. Use the Registered Voter Lookup, or call the Registrar of Voters Office.

Have you changed your mailing address or closed a post office box? Be sure the Registrar of Voters Office has your current mailing address (if different from your residence address). Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlets and Vote by Mail ballots will not be forwarded by the Post Office; election materials will be returned as undeliverable to the Registrar of Voters Office.

Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlets are mailed out approximately 3 weeks before an election; a second mailing goes out around 15 days before an election for voters who registered after the first mailing. The Registrar of Voters does not conduct a third mailing, but you may view Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlets on the Registrar of Voters website, or a copy may be picked up at the Registrar of Voters Office.

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I am registered "Independent." Why did I get an "American Independent" ballot?
In California, voters may decline to state a political party affiliation on the voter registration form. Voters who choose not to affiliate are commonly referred to as "independent," a term that closely resembles the name of an actual political party, American Independent. You may have selected "American Independent" on your registration form when you actually intended to decline to state a political party affiliation. For more information, refer to the Political Party Affiliation section of the Registrar of Voters website.

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Where is my polling place?
You have several options to locate your polling place:
  1. Check the back cover of your Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet.
  2. Use the Polling Place Lookup on the Registrar of Voters website.
  3. Call the Registrar of Voters Office.

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My old polling place is still open but I was told I can’t vote there. Why?
Although every attempt is made to use the same polling place for a precinct from one election to the next, there are times that this is not possible. Sometimes, voters residing in a geographical area will have contests on their ballot that are unique to that area of the county — this results in creation of a new voting precinct. California law requires that polling places for a precinct must be within that precinct’s boundaries; if your old polling place is not within the new precinct’s boundaries, it can not be used for the new precinct.

If you go to your old polling place to vote, your name will not appear on the roster of voters; poll workers will help you locate your correct polling place or give you a provisional ballot. If you vote in the wrong polling place, you will likely not receive a ballot with all the contests in which you are eligible to vote.

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I don’t have time to drive all the way back to my polling place. Can I go to any polling place that’s nearby and vote?
If you go to a polling place other than the one assigned to you, your name will not appear on the roster of voters; poll workers will give you a provisional ballot. If you vote in the wrong polling place, you will likely not receive a ballot with all the contests in which you are eligible to vote.

If you are near the Registrar of Voters Office and can get there before 8:00 PM, you may apply in person for a Vote by Mail ballot and vote it at the office. This way, you will receive the correct ballot with all the contests in which you are eligible to vote.

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I do not vote by mail, and plan to vote at my polling place. Why was I sent a ballot in the mail?
You are in a "mailed ballot only" precinct. In any given election, registered voters may reside within a precinct that contains a unique set of districts that are distinct from surrounding precincts. What’s more, there may be relatively few registered voters residing in that unique precinct. If a precinct contains fewer than 250 registered voters, California law allows the Registrar of Voters Office to declare these small precincts "mailed ballot only" and provide a Vote by Mail ballot to each voter along with a notice that there will be no polling place for that precinct. The notice you received also lists every Sonoma County polling place in the event you prefer to return your ballot in person on Election Day. Postage for these ballots is paid by the Registrar of Voters Office.

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I lost my Vote by Mail ballot. What should I do?
You have a couple of options: 1) before Election Day, call the Registrar of Voters Office and inform the staff person that you lost your ballot; staff will inform you of your options to obtain a second Vote by Mail ballot (which may include issuing you a second Vote by Mail ballot if there is sufficient time before the election. 2) if it is Election Day, you can go to your assigned polling place and vote a provisional ballot OR go to the Registrar of Voters Office and inform the staff person that you lost your ballot; staff will issue you a second Vote by Mail ballot. Whenever a second ballot is issued, the first ballot is voided so it can not be counted if both are returned.

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I lost my envelope to return my Vote by Mail ballot. What should I do?
Check to see which envelope you lost. You were mailed an Identification Envelope (on which you place your signature) and a Mailing Envelope (a return envelope containing the Registrar of Voters address).
  • If you Lost your Identification Envelope:

    Call the Registrar of Voters Office and another Identification Envelope will be mailed to you if there is sufficient time to receive it before the election. If it is Election Day, go to the nearest polling place in Sonoma County and ask for a Vote by Mail envelope for your ballot. Complete the voter information section and sign the envelope. After you sign the roster, drop the envelope (with your ballot enclosed) into the ballot box.

  • If you Lost your Mailing Envelope:

    You may enclose your Identification Envelope in a regular envelope large enough to hold the ballot and envelope without folding the ballot card(s). Address the envelope to the Registrar of Voters Office before mailing. If it is Election Day, hand deliver it to the Registrar of Voters Office or any polling place in Sonoma County; Vote by Mail ballots must be received no later than 8:00 PM on Election Day; postmarks will not be accepted.

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I sent my Vote by Mail ballot back. Can you confirm you received it?
You can check whether your Vote by Mail ballot has been received by using the Vote by Mail Ballot Status Lookup on the Registrar of Voters website. You may also call the Registrar of Voters Office and a staff person will check for you.

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My Vote by Mail ballot was sent back to me. Why?
California law requires that the signature on each Vote by Mail ballot envelope be verified before the ballot can be counted. The signature on the Vote by Mail ballot envelope must match the voter’s signature from the voter registration form on file. There are several reasons why a voter’s signature may no longer match: signatures change over time, a voter uses only initials rather than a formal name, or the voter prints rather than signs his/her name. Sometimes voters in the same household mistakenly sign each others’ Vote by Mail envelopes, or forget to sign the envelope before returning it. Your Vote by Mail ballot was likely returned to you for one of these reasons. Carefully read the letter or note enclosed with your Vote by Mail ballot as it will clarify why your ballot was returned and how to correct the situation so your Vote by Mail ballot can be counted.

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I forgot to mail my Vote by Mail ballot. Will it count as long as I have it postmarked before midnight on Election Day?
No; Vote by Mail ballots must be received by the Registrar of Voters Office or any polling place in Sonoma County no later than 8:00 PM on Election Day; postmarks will not be accepted. If it is Election Day, you must hand deliver your ballot to the Registrar of Voters Office or any polling place in Sonoma County before 8:00 PM. If you are unable to personally return your Vote by Mail ballot, you may choose one of the following eligible representatives to return your ballot for you: spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or person residing in your household.

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I heard that Vote by Mail ballots are only counted if a contest is close. Is that true?
No; All valid Vote by Mail ballots are counted. Because voters are cautioned that Vote by Mail ballots returned to the polls on Election Day will not be included in election night results, this has been misunderstood to mean they are not counted at all. This rumor is likely due to a misunderstanding of how Vote by Mail ballots must be processed. Because signatures on Vote by Mail ballots must be verified before the ballots can be counted, ballots received within 1-2 days of Election Day may not be counted and included in semi-final results reported election night. It may take up to one week to verify all signatures on Vote by Mail ballots returned close to, or on, Election Day before the votes cast can be counted and included in the final, official results.

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What is a provisional ballot?
Provisional ballots are provided when a person’s eligibility to vote can not immediately be confirmed. A provisional ballot is issued to a voter even if his/her name does not appear on the precinct’s roster of voters. However, the voter will be required to provide an address and other identifying information, including a signature, so that elections officials can research the voter’s eligibility to vote. Provisional ballots are processed and tabulated during the Official Canvass (after Election Day).

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I went to my usual polling place and the poll worker told me I was not on the roster, but gave me a provisional ballot. Will my votes count?
Provisional ballots use the same official ballots issued to all voters. Provisional ballots are issued when a person’s eligibility to vote can not immediately be confirmed. After the election, staff will research whether you are registered and which ballot, if any, you were eligible to receive. If you are registered and confirmed eligible to vote, the votes you cast will count for all eligible contests only. For example, you went to the wrong polling place and were given a provisional ballot which included a contest for the Sunshine School District — but you reside in an area that is not within the Sunshine School District boundaries. The vote you cast for the Sunshine School District contest will not count. Staff will research which ballot you would have received at your assigned polling place, compare it to the ballot you actually cast, and count only the votes for contests in which you were eligible to vote.

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I did not vote on every contest on my ballot. Will my other votes count?
Yes. You are not required to vote on every contest on your ballot.

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I did not like the choice of candidates so I wrote in someone’s name. Will my vote count?
Votes for write-in candidates will be counted only if the person is a "qualified" write-in candidate, and you filled in the voting space next to where you wrote in the name. There are specific documentation and filing requirements that a candidate must satisfy to become qualified, and thus eligible to receive votes. A list of qualified write-in candidates is provided at every polling place for voters. Votes for unqualified candidates are not tallied or reported in election results.

If you vote for a candidate whose name appears on the ballot do not also write the candidate’s name in the write-in location. Marking more voting spaces in a contest than the maximum allowed will result in an overvote and your votes for that contest will not count.

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I keep getting calls from campaigns. How did they get my telephone number?
California law allows voter information to be provided to individuals or groups if used for political, governmental, journalistic, or educational research purposes (driver’s license and social security numbers, and your signature as shown on your registration, can not be released for these purposes). Campaigns may use this and other means to obtain lists of voters. You may call the Registrar of Voters Office and ask that your telephone number be removed from the voter file.

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How do I change my political party?
You must re-register to change your political party.

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I’m a college student, and I live temporarily away from my home, which is in Sonoma County. Can I still vote in Sonoma County elections?
Yes: you may apply to become a Vote by Mail voter. There are several ways to become a Vote by Mail voter, refer to the Vote by Mail section of the Registrar of Voters website to print an application or read instructions on how to send a Vote by Mail ballot request. You will need to provide your Sonoma County residence address in addition to a mailing address (where you want your ballot and voter information sent). You may choose to become a permanent Vote by Mail voter, but be sure to notify the Registrar of Voters Office when you change your mailing address (e.g. move from a dorm into an off-campus apartment).

You may also register using your current residence address where you are attending college. Remember: you may register using only 1 residence address.

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Why does Sonoma County use electronic voting machines?
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) required, among other things, that individuals with disabilities be able to cast a ballot privately and independently. Mark-A-Vote, the paper-based voting system used in Sonoma County, does not have features that comply with this HAVA requirement. Therefore, after an extensive evaluation process, Sonoma County chose a supplemental voting system that is accessible to disabled and visually impaired voters. The Hart eSlate® Disabled Access Unit has several accessible features, including audio playback of voter options and selections, tactile input switches, and "sip and puff" device compatibility. By law, each polling place must have at least one accessible voting booth.

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I am the treasurer for a campaign committee. What am I supposed to do?
In general, campaign committee treasurers are responsible for establishing and maintaining a record keeping system to ensure that contributions and expenditures are recorded in compliance with legal requirements. Campaign finance laws dictate which forms must be filed and which filing deadlines apply. To obtain more information about the specific disclosure and filing requirements for your campaign committee, refer to Candidate & Campaign Committee Information or visit the Registrar of Voters Office in person to pick up forms and copies of campaign disclosure reference manuals.

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I’d like to run for public office. How do I get my name on the ballot?
Candidate qualifications and requirements are specific to the office being sought. The Registrar of Voters Office has limited information regarding local candidates on its website; refer to Candidate & Campaign Committee Information. Copies of these Guides are also available at the Registrar of Voters Office.

For further information about state candidates for public office, visit the California Secretary of State Candidate Information page.

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Additional Information

For answers to additional FAQ, visit the California Secretary of State’s Voter Registration FAQ.