Tuesday is the deadline for registering to vote in California’s Mar. 3 primary election, but like so many things in the the Golden State, it’s a little relaxed. If voter registration deadlines are like leather boots, California’s are flip-flops.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla called Feb. 18 California’s “traditional” voting deadline of 15 days before an election, noting that under a series of recent laws, you can now register to vote and cast a ballot in 2020 at county offices and polling places right up through Election Day.

Of course, that makes a little more work for folks like Padilla, who oversees the state’s elections, so the secretary of state diplomatically encouraged voters to observe Tuesday’s deadline, even if they don’t have to.

“To ensure an easier, smoother voting experience, I urge eligible Californians to register to vote or update their voter registration by midnight tonight,” Padilla said Tuesday.

What gives?

State lawmakers in 2012 approved a law allowing for same-day voter registration in California, following examples in 16 other states where voters can register and cast their ballot on the spot on Election Day.

California’s version required counties to let voters register at their registrar offices on Election Day, and allowed registrars to offer the same service at satellite locations, though not many did. When the new provisions were first implemented in 2018, few voters took advantage of the new freedom to register on Election Day.

Lawmakers argued that was because unregistered voters found it inconvenient to go to county registrar offices to register and vote, and passed another law requiring counties to allow same-day registration at all their polling places.

Another recent law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week provides that voters who just want to update their address or change party registration don’t have to go through the whole registration rigmarole. Instead of filling out an exhaustive affidavit, they can just sign a simplified form.

Voters need to re-register if they have a new address, have changed their legal name or want to change their party affiliation.

To register, paper voter registration cards are available at most government offices, including libraries and post offices. However, those must be postmarked on or before the February 18 deadline, which isn’t really in the spirit of California’s new understanding of deadlines.

So to make all this even easier, California is offering quick and easy online registration at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. It’s mobile-friendly, so you can do it on your iPhone while you wait for the dude at the surf shop to ring you up for a new bar of surfboard wax.

Not sure if you’re registered? You can check that online too, at voterstatus.sos.ca.gov, on your way to the beach. It’s available in 10 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.

For counties that are doing all-mail balloting under the state’s 2016 Voting Choice Act, including San Mateo, Napa and Santa Clara, all voters will be issued mail-in ballots. They can either send them snail mail — postmarked no later than Election Day — or drop them off at the registrar’s office, a vote center or in a drop-box.

What are these “vote centers”? Basically, a satellite registrar’s office, with trained staff who can pretty much do everything that they do at the registrar’s headquarters in San Jose.

Santa Clara County expects to have 110 vote centers up and running by Election Day, and 100 drop boxes. Locations are posted online. San Mateo County vote center and drop box locations also are available online.

Traditional polling places will still be used in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin and Santa Cruz counties, which provide location information online as well.

Want to know the status of your mail-in ballot after you turn it in? Under a recent law, county registrars can now offer a tracking feature, though Chris Miller, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said only about half of them now do so. In the Bay Area, he said, ballot tracking is available in Santa Clara, Marin and San Benito counties.


All the ways you now can register and vote in California:

Registering:

  • If you picked up a registration card at a library, post office or other government office, you can pop it in the mail but it has to be postmarked by Feb. 18.
  • You can register online through the state at RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
  • Register at county elections office, vote center or polling place now through Election Day. Voters will be asked to fill out a voter registration form and be provided a ballot. Their ballots will be counted once the county office has completed the voter registration verification process.

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