A voter drops of his voted ballot in the ballot drop box outside the Fresno County Elections Office in downtown Fresno Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

If you’re sick of the ads already, you probably know – we’re getting into election season.

We’ve compiled a guide to everything you should know about voting and elections in Fresno and Madera County.

Voting is a right.

If you are at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and not currently serving a prison sentence, you can vote in California.

You do not have to know how to read or speak English to vote.

We’ll be releasing more information about the local candidates and ballot measures in the coming weeks.

Have more questions? Fill out our short survey here.

Can I vote?

How do I know if I’m registered to vote?

You can check to see whether you’re registered to vote in California here

Can I still register to vote?

Yes! If you are at least 18 years old, you can register to vote all the way through Nov. 8, Election Day.

Register to vote online here. You don’t necessarily need a driver’s license to register.

If you register after Oct. 24, you will need to sign-up in person, at:

  • Fresno County
    • County Clerk’s Office: 2221 Kern Street, Fresno CA 93721
    • Vote Centers, starting on Oct. 29
  • Madera County
    • County Government Center: 200 W. 4th Street, Madera, CA 93637
Can I vote if I’m not a US citizen, but I live in California?

No, not at this time. The State of California requires all voters to be U.S. citizens, unless a local government says otherwise. In Fresno and Madera Counties, you have to be a U.S. citizen to vote in all elections.

Can I vote, if I was incarcerated?

Yes, as long as you are not currently serving your term in prison, formerly incarcerated people are allowed to vote in California.

Can someone vote, even if they don’t speak or read English?

Yes! Under California law, county officials are required to provide voting materials in commonly spoken languages other than English.

In Fresno County, this includes: Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Cambodian/Khmer, Punjabi, Filipino, Laotian, and Vietnamese.

In Madera County, this includes Spanish and Punjabi.

Under California law, you are allowed to bring up to two people to assist you in voting.

To request voting materials in a language other than English, show up at a Vote Center in-person.

How do I vote?

Will I get a mail-in ballot?

Yes, everyone registered to vote in California is sent a mail-in ballot. This is a relatively new policy. You should receive yours around mid-October.

You can sign up for updates on your ballot – including when it is sent to you – here.

How do I mail in my ballot?

You can fill it out and put it back in the mail, without a stamp, for free, as long as it is postmarked by Nov. 8.

Ballots postmarked or dropped off after Nov. 8 will not be counted.

Don’t forget to sign your ballot, or else it won’t count. And do your best to sign your ballot in a way that is consistent with how you usually sign your name, since election officials use this to verify your identity.

Can I still vote in person, even if I receive a mail-in ballot?

Yes, you can either:

  • Drop your ballot off at a Vote Center or Drop Box starting on Oct. 29 through Nov. 8, or,
  • Surrender your mail-in ballot and vote with a new ballot at a Vote Center
  • Vote with a provisional ballot at a Vote Center
Where can I vote in person or drop off my ballot, in Fresno or Madera County?

Local election officials are still working on finalizing the list of official Vote Centers, where you can drop off your ballot or vote in person. We’ll update this question when the official list comes out from both Fresno and Madera County election officials.

What if my ballot never came in the mail – or if I lost my ballot?

Remember, ballots haven’t been sent out – so this shouldn’t be a problem just yet.

You can sign up for updates to your ballot here – including when it gets sent to your home. It’s an official government service.

But, once ballots are out, and you still don’t have one:

You can show up to a Vote Center and vote with a provisional ballot.

OR, 

You can apply in writing for a late vote-by-mail ballot by filling out this form and dropping it off in person at:

  • Fresno County Clerk’s Office: 2221 Kern Street, Fresno CA 93721
  • Madera County Government Center: 200 W. 4th Street, Madera, CA 93637
Do I have to vote for every single race, or can I leave some questions unanswered?

You can leave as many questions blank as you’d like.

Why vote?

What’s on the ballot this election?

Billions of local tax dollars for the region’s future transportation system – and how much money we can expect for new roads, transit, and sidewalk – is being decided by Fresno County voters in Measure C, and for Madera County voters in Measure T.

Fresno County voters are also deciding on a new tax that would fund upgrades to Fresno State’s stadium, among other projects.

Clovis, Kerman, Fresno, and Mendota voters will also be deciding on taxes to fund public safety and veterans’ services, among other things.

And voters are choosing a lot of candidates who will represent local communities at all levels of government and who make important decisions on how to spend funding on housing, transportation, schools, and air quality.

Where can I learn more about the candidates and issues?

The state’s official voter guide is out – you can access it here.

At Fresnoland, we’re personally fans of the nonpartisan guide by CalMatters, where you can learn more about statewide candidates and issues, who is endorsing them, and who is giving them money.

We’re working on a voter guide now at Fresnoland focused on local issues and candidates that will come out in a few weeks. Sign up for our newsletter here to make sure you don’t miss it. Do you have questions you’d like us to ask candidates? Share them with us in our survey here.

Why should I vote?

Many races, especially in local elections, are decided literally by just a dozen or even a handful of votes. Your vote can make the difference between one ballot measure winning or losing.

There’s also a lot at stake this election: billions of dollars of local tax dollars for roads; candidates that have a lot of influence over addressing the housing crisis and drought; whether we should pay new taxes for upgrades to Fresno State’s football stadium, among other projects.

How do I know if it’s a trustworthy source of information?

Chances are, if you watch TV or are on social media, you’re being bombarded by advertisements for political candidates and ballot measures. The problem is: candidates and campaigns are allowed to lie, according to this report from NPR. You can tell if an advertisement is paid for by a candidate by watching the disclosure, usually at the end of the commercial, where it says “paid for by….”

Trustworthy media outlets do a good job of separating factual news reports from opinion. They usually have a clear code of ethics on their website, and share information about their sources of funding or business model. A solid news story will typically have a variety of perspectives on the topic.

Read more about Fresnoland, our values, and our donors here.

What happens after you vote?

Can I vote twice? Will my ballot be counted if I vote twice?

No, you cannot vote twice. It’s illegal under both California and federal laws. Your ballot will not be counted if you cast it more than once.

How are votes counted? And who counts them?

In Fresno County, ballots are counted in two ways, according to county registrar of voters, James Kus, in an email to Fresnoland.

Ballots cast in person at Vote Centers are counted at the time they are cast, after a person inserts it into a ballot tabulator machine. When you insert your completed ballot into the machine, if the machine doesn’t detect any issues with the ballot, you should hear a chime and see the number on the screen increase by one. If there are issues, the machine will tell you what they are and how to fix them.

On Election Day (Nov. 8) a memory card from the ballot tabulation machine is securely transported to the county election warehouse after the Vote Centers close, Kus said.

Mail-in ballots that are either sent via mail or dropped off at official Drop Boxes or Vote Centers are securely transported to the county’s elections warehouse where envelopes are counted and run through a signature comparison process (where the signature on the ballot is compared to the signature in the voter’s registration file).

Once signatures are deemed valid, the ballots are then moved to a table in a secure, fully observable room and counted by staff from the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters IT Department.

The counting of mail-in ballots can begin as soon as ballots are returned, Kus said, but the results aren’t reported until after 8:00p.m. on Election Day. It usually takes about five workdays after Election Day to finish counting most of the mail-in ballots, according to Kus, but they continue to count ballots as needed until 30 days after Election Day.

How do I track my ballot?

You can sign up to receive text, voice call, or email alerts about your ballot status here. It’s an official service provided by the State of California, Secretary of State through BallotTrax.

How are races called before all ballots are counted?

Different media outlets have specialized staff with expertise in election rules, local campaigns, and past history of certain races, which helps them understand how to predict results even if the total amount of votes have not been counted yet. Local election officials also have information on how many ballots have been submitted by people from different political parties and neighborhoods, which helps with predictions.

California has recently moved to universal mail-in voting, which means that counting votes takes even more time than it did in the past, as local election clerks wait for ballots postmarked by election day to arrive. It’s increasingly difficult to call winners of races in California on election night, or even the day after.

According to James Kus, Fresno County registrar of voters, the first reported results at 8:00pm. on Election Day (after the Vote Centers close) are just the results of all the mail-in ballots sent in and received before Nov. 8. Later that evening, they will likely provide two additional updates, as memory cards with results from ballots cast in-person at Vote Centers are sent in.

Since voters are allowed to mail in ballots as late as Election Day (Nov. 8), as long as they are postmarked that day, it could take several days for the elections office to receive and count the ballot. If a race is close, this could further push out how long it takes to declare a winner.

For more information about how the Associated Press (AP) calls elections, see here.

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