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San Mateo County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder-Elections
Shape the Future. Vote!

Official Election Site of San Mateo County

MARK CHURCH, Chief Elections Officer & Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder

Frequently Asked Questions about Voter Registration and Voting

Voter Registration | Voting | Vote by Mail | Jury Duty | General | California Secretary of State FAQs

Voter Registration

  1. Who may register to vote?
  2. You may register to vote if you are:

    • A US 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

  3. How do I register to vote?
  4. You may fill out a Voter Registration Form available at all post offices, city halls, most public libraries, Department of Motor Vehicles and most governmental agencies. Once you sign the form, just drop it in the mail. Postage is pre-paid.

    The Secretary of State's website enables you to fill out a registration form online. The online form uses your signature on file with the DMV. If you have no DMV signature, you may print out the form and mail it in.

  5. When must I re-register to vote?
  6. 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 the Election Day. A voter may register “conditionally” at the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division office at 40 Tower Road in San Mateo after the registration deadline through Election Day. Other satellite locations may be designated.

  7. I just moved into California, when am I able to register to vote?
  8. 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 elections for President and Vice-President, special rules apply to new residents.

  9. May I register to vote at my business address or may I use my P.O. Box Number?
  10. No. You are only eligible to register to vote using your place or 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).

    You may use a business address or a P.O. Box as a mailing address to receive voter information materials.

  11. I registered at a Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office. Why does the County say I'm not registered?
  12. 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 complete, signed, and received by the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division in order to become a registered voter.

  13. Must I register with a specific party?
  14. No. California law states that an individual may select the "No Party Preference" when registering to vote.

  15. What are the qualified political parties?
  16. The qualified political parties in California are: American Independent Party, Democratic Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party, Peace and Freedom Party and Republican Party. California law permits you to register and select the "No Party" 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.

  17. Can I change my political party affiliation?
  18. Yes. If you wish to change your political party affiliation you must re-register at least 15 days prior to an election.

  19. If I didn't vote in the last election, do I have to re-register?
  20. No. Generally, you are registered to vote as long as you live at the same address.

  21. How can I find out if I am registered to vote?
  22. Go to "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 numeric birth date to check the status of your voter registration and find other important information. You may 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.

  23. Can I obtain registration information about another individual?
  24. Yes. However, access to this information is restricted. The Elections Code has very strict guidelines as to the permissible uses of voter information.

  25. I became a "new citizen" after the registration deadline. Can I still register and vote?
  26. Yes. Persons who become citizens after the close of registration may only vote at the Election Office up to the 7th day prior to an election. New citizens must present a Certificate of Naturalization and declare that they have established residency in San Mateo County.

  27. Can an ex-felon register to vote and be eligible to vote?
  28. 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.

  29. What is a Conditional Voter Registration?
  30. During the period of 14 days prior to Election Day through 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).  After that the voter is 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.


  1. Where do I go to vote?
  2. On Election Day, Polling Places will be open throughout San Mateo County. You will find your designated polling place on the back of your Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet or online at Check My Registration/Access My Election Materials/View My Sample Ballot Pamphlet. Registered voters may vote in person at their designated polling place, request a replacement ballot, or drop off his or her voted ballot. Personnel will be on hand to help voters requesting assistance.

  3. When are the polls open for voting?
  4. Polling places are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. By law, you have a right to vote if you are in line at the polling place by the close of the polls.

  5. Why was my polling place changed?
  6. In California , there are no permanent poll sites. Locations may change from election to election if a facility previously used is not available for a particular election. Changes to precinct boundaries may sometimes occur when precincts are consolidated or realigned, especially for local elections that are not statewide.

    Voters should ALWAYS refer to their sample ballot booklet or go online to the Check My Registration/Voter Information bar to find the location of his/her polling place before going to the polls to vote.

  7. Can I take my sample ballot or my own written voting choices into the voting booth?
  8. Yes. It is recommended that you mark your voting choices in your sample ballot and take it to your poll site on Election Day to use as a reference. This will allow you to vote your ballot quickly. Remember to take your sample ballot out of the voting booth after you have completed voting.

  9. If I do not know what to do when I get to the polling place, will someone help me?
  10. Yes. Ask the election Poll Workers to help you with the voting process. Poll workers cannot, however, help you in making decisions on your voting choices.

  11. I only speak very limited English, is there oral assistance or are written voting materials available in languages other than English?
  12. Yes. In accordance with Federal law, San Mateo County provides voter registration information, election materials and oral assistance in English, Spanish and Chinese. Additionally, poll sites that have been identified as requiring oral language assistance are staffed with bilingual speaking Poll Workers whenever possible. Signs are posted in those locations identifying the minority language(s) spoken.

  13. Can I vote for someone whose name is not listed on the ballot?
  14. Yes. You may vote for a qualified write-in candidate whose name is not printed or displayed on the ballot. Only votes for qualified write-in candidates will be counted. Ask Poll Workers or call the Election Office for a list of those candidates. Elections Officials can also assist you with write-in voting procedures.

  15. I have to work and therefore have no time to vote, what should I do?
  16. According to California Elections Code, employees are eligible for paid time off for the purpose of voting only if they do not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote. Employees can be given as much time as they need in order to vote, but only a maximum of two hours is paid. Alternatively, we encourage voters to sign-up to vote by mail--any registered voter in California can do so simply by requesting to do so. Use this online form to sign-up to vote by mail.

  17. How do I vote if I can't get to my polling place?
  18. You can vote by mail by sending the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division a request for a vote by mail ballot. You can also apply by sending a letter. The required information includes your name as registered, residence address, mailing address if different, your date of birth, the election which you are applying for and your signature. You may also choose to vote in person at the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division in San Mateo and Redwood City beginning 29 days before each election.

Vote by Mail

  1. How much time do I have to return my Vote by Mail ballot?
  2. 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 ballots will be on time if they are 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 polling location in the county, any city hall or at either of the two Voting Centers before 8:00 p.m. Election Day and it will be counted.

  3. 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?
  4. 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. On Election Day, you may return your Vote by Mail ballot to any polling place or Voting Center in San Mateo County between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

  5. 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?
  6. 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.

  7. If I lose the Vote by Mail ballot sent to me, can I get another one?
  8. 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 that you have lost or did not receive your Vote by Mail ballot.

    You may also go to your regular polling place or San Mateo County Voting Center. You may be asked to vote a provisional ballot.

  9. I am out of the country and the mail is slow. Can I apply earlier than the normal 29 days?
  10. Yes. Go to the http://www.fvap.gov 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.

  11. How do I qualify for Permanent Vote by Mail Status?
  12. California allows any voter to request Permanent Vote by Mail status. Simply complete the online form. You may 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 elections.

    If you don't vote for a period of eight years, your Permanent Vote by Mail status will be cancelled. But, if that happens, you can always reapply and resume voting by mail again. Your voter registration will not be cancelled.

  13. If I request a Vote by Mail ballot, can I change my mind and vote at my regular polling place?
  14. Yes. But please take your ballot to the polling place or one of the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division and turn it into the Poll Worker in exchange for the right to vote a regular precinct ballot. If you do not have your Vote by Mail ballot, you will be allowed to cast a "provisional" ballot at the polling place. Your provisional ballot will be counted after the elections officials confirm that you did not previously vote using your Vote by Mail ballot for that election.

Jury Duty

  1. Is it true that voter registration lists are used to select citizens for jury duty?
  2. Yes. California State Statutes require that lists of registered voters be provided to the Jury Commissioner to be used for jury duty selection.

  3. Why am I receiving multiple Jury Summons?
  4. 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.

  5. If I cancel my voter registration, can I be certain that I will not get a summons for jury duty?
  6. 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 Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), be made available to the Jury Commissioner.


  1. Are there circumstances under which a voter can be required to vote by mail?
  2. 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.

  3. How can I volunteer to work at or provide a polling place?
  4. Call the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at (650) 286-2610 or fill out the online Poll Worker application form. We're always in need of Poll Workers.

  5. What do I do if I move before the election?
  6. If you moved within San Mateo County 14 days or less before the election, you can go to the polling place for your old address, the polling place for your new address or to the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division. If you go to the polling place for your new address, be sure to bring either a California Drivers license, ID card or two other types of identification that will prove you live at the new address. If you don't have proof of current residence, you can complete an affirmation form in our office on Election Day.

  7. I am disabled/physically challenged. Is there any assistance for me?
  8. Our voting system is compliant with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA); it has audio headphones, raised braille labeled keys, and adaptive devices that provide large tactile buttons for motor issues as well as sip-n-puff capability. We also provide curbside voting if you cannot enter the polling place. A Poll Worker will bring your ballot and voting device to your vehicle to enable you to vote.

    Voters who wish to have a copy of the Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet provided to them in an audio format prior to the election may contact the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at (650) 312-5222 and request assistance.

    Finally, if a voter prefers to vote at home, he/she can sign up to vote by mail.

  9. I would like to run for office. What are the qualifications and requirements?
  10. Candidate qualifications and filing requirements are specific to each elective office. For general information regarding candidate qualifications, filing requirements, filing periods, campaign statement/financial disclosure reporting, call (650) 312-5222 or review the Candidates & Campaigns section of this web site.

  11. May I sign a petition if I am not registered to vote?
  12. No. You must be a registered voter for your signature to be valid on a petition. If you complete and sign a voter registration form on the same date or a date prior to signing the petition, your signature will be valid. The Election Office must receive the completed/signed voter registration form on or before the date the petition is filed with the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division.

  13. How can I find out my districts (congressional, legislative, supervisorial etc.)?
  14. Go to www.shapethefuture.org/elections/electedofficials/ or contact the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at (650) 312-5222, visit our website homepage or check your Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet.

  15. How do I get election results?
  16. Get election results online or call the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division at (650) 312-5222. Election night results are published online simultaneously with their release. The first returns are posted at 8:05 p.m., the second at 8:30 p.m. and on the half-hour thereafter until all the precinct votes are counted on Election Night.

    Updates are posted online in the week that follows the election. The updates include (vote by mail ballots dropped off at the polls, vote by mail ballots received at the San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division on Election Day, and eligible provisional ballots) that are added to the vote totals in each contest.

  17. Can I receive advice on which candidates or ballot measures that I should support or oppose?
  18. No. The San Mateo County Registration & Elections Division is prohibited from offering advice to voters regarding how a voter should cast their vote.

  19. Does San Mateo use Touch Screen voting? What type of voting machines/technology does San Mateo County use?
  20. No. San Mateo County uses a fully electronic voting machine called an eSlate, but it is not a touchscreen.


    Voters navigate the ballot by turning the dial on the eSlate. A voter makes ballot choices by pressing the "enter" button. The eSlate gives the voter many different ways to correct or change a voting choice before the ballot is cast. The eSlate produces a printed paper record of all the choices made; this lets the voter verify that it is correct before they press the "Cast Ballot" button to make it official.


    Because of the eSlate voting machine’s numerous accessibility features people are able to vote privately and independently. To find out more about the eSlate please watch our YouTube video.



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Registration & Elections Division
40 Tower Road, San Mateo, CA 94402
Phone: (650) 312-5222
Fax: (650) 312-5348
Email: registrar@smcare.org


Assistance for Voters with Disabilities:

Dial 711 For Telecommunications Relay Service
Phone: 1 (888) 762-8683
Language Assistance
Phone: 1 (888) 762-8683 or 1 (888) SMC-VOTE