Using Your Voice: A Beginner’s Guide to Voting

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Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by only seven million votes, but eight million of us are turning 18 this year. It’s time for many of us to exercise our democratic right to vote –here is all you need to know about the process.

How do you register?

If you have a driver’s license issued by the DMV you have most likely already been registered. This is called Pre-Registration. It happens when you are 16 or 17 and sign up to get a drivers license. Otherwise you will need to register before you can vote.

Here are the requirements:  

  • United States citizen and California resident
  • At least 18 years old on Election Day
  • Not currently serving a state or federal prison term for the conviction of a felony 
  • Not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court 

Click here to check your registration status

What are primaries?

When you register to vote you will indicate a political party preference. If you want to change your preference, you will have to re-register.

A primary election is where a political party votes to elect their nominees for office. The top two nominees who receive the most votes move on to the general election.

There are two different types of primaries. A closed primary is where the party only allows voters who have indicated a preference for that party to vote for its nominee. A modified-closed primary is when the party also includes voters who identify as No-Party Preference to vote.

In California both closed primaries and modified-closed primaries take place, depending on the political party.

This election season, three parties are holding a modified-closed presidential primary: the American Independent Party, the Democratic Party, and the Libertarian Party. Therefore, if you indicated “No Party Preference” you will still be able to vote for a candidate for one of these parties.

Important dates to know for the primaries :

  1. Feb. 5 – All California active registered voters will be mailed a ballot begging
  2. Feb. 6 – Ballot drop off locations open
  3. March 5 – Presidential primary takes place
  4. March 12 – Votes by mail must be postmarked or returned

What is the general election?

Next up is the general election. In this election you will vote for president as well as local positions. The ballot will also include measures, which are propositions appended by citizens.

Important dates to know for the general election:

  1. Oct.21 – Last day to register 
  2. Oct. 7 – County election office begins mailing ballots to all registered voters 
  3.  Oct. 8 – Ballot drop off locations open 
  4. Oct. 26 – Voting centers open for early in-person voting in all Voter’s Choice Act counties
  5. Nov. 5 – The last day to vote

Links to learn about current ballot measures and propositions:

A note on propositions and measures:

Putting propositions on the California ballot is considered pretty easy compared to other states. A prospective proposition must be circulated and receive a set amount of signatures before it is placed on the ballot. The number or signatures is based on the total number of votes cast for governor in the preceding election. With it being comparatively easy to get propositions on the California ballot, voters have to be very careful with which ones they vote for.

Some propositions may use confusing wording to manipulate voters into voting for something that they don’t fully understand. Before voting it is important to read through the propositions thoroughly—in general, if you don’t fully understand a proposition, it is better not to vote for it. 

For example, on many propositions, writers will claim that whatever they are proposing is going to be covered by bonds. While this may seem appealing, it can actually be more expensive than paying normally through taxes.

Laws that are passed on the local level are called measures instead of propositions.

Sofia is a senior at M-A. This is her first year in journalism. She is excited to write about a plethora of topics that relate to the M-A community. Sofia is a part of the M-A dance team, and likes spend time with her dogs.

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